GULLANE, Scotland (Reuters) - World number one Tiger Woods may struggle to add to his 14 major titles for a number of different reasons, former British Open champion Nick Faldo told Reuters on Thursday.
Faldo was speaking after he shot an eight-over 79 in the first round at Muirfield, venue for two of his three Open triumphs, in his first competitive round for three years.
“I think it may be difficult for Tiger now,” Faldo said. “Perhaps there is too much happening for him.
“All the stuff that went on off the course and his injury problems. Tiger used to be able to make things happen on the course and he has struggled to do that recently,” added Faldo.
“He has issues with his swing, look at what happened to him today on the first tee? He snap-hooked the ball. That tells me something is not right.”
Faldo, celebrating his 56th birthday on Thursday, enjoyed his return to Muirfield where he lifted the Claret Jug in 1987 and 1992.
“Standing on the first tee looking down the fairway at all the crowds, that was a good moment,” he said.
Faldo bogeyed the first two holes but fought back with two birdies and he was nicely poised at two over par after 12 holes before two double-bogeys spoiled his card.
“The last four greens have gone past the edge, they have gone to glass,” he said of the ultra-firm putting surfaces. “You could have a situation that’s getting a little bit silly.
“I was going alright until the last few holes. But it was really hard work out there and I just haven’t had time to practice my short game enough.”
Faldo was playing with two old rivals, Americans Tom Watson, a five-times Open champion, and former U.S. Masters winner Fred Couples.
Watson, 63, and Couples, 53, were ideal partners.
“I was very happy when I found out I was playing with Tom and Fred,” said Faldo who was at the MasterCard clubhouse hosting a Q&A session for golf fans and was unveiled as a new ambassador.
“I know them well and we were chatting on the way round although you need to concentrate pretty hard on the golf too.
“I talked to Tom about skeet shooting, he does that a lot, and I talked to him about tornadoes because he’s from Kansas. He hasn’t seen a tornado which I was quite surprised about.”
Faldo, who also won three Masters titles, said the biggest difference in the game today was the equipment.
“Players can adjust the heads and shafts of their clubs really quickly now which is great,” he said. “When I played it would take a day to make changes.”
Faldo blazed a trail for British golf in the 1980s and 1990s, completely remodeling his swing to win his first major at Muirfield in 1987 and he was world number one for 97 weeks.
He is now enjoying the success of the next generation of British players including former world number ones Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and Ryder Cup stalwart Ian Poulter.
“I do take pride in the fact I may have inspired what they are doing,” Faldo said. “I am always there for them if they want advice and I know that Ian Poulter was inspired by watching me play in the Ryder Cup.”
Faldo, however, said he thought it might be difficult for the 40-year-old Westwood to win his first major.
“Lee has got scars,” he added. “He had a great chance at Turnberry (in 2009) and finished second at St Andrews (in 2010).
“It’s not easy for the older guys to win because you’ve got these new guys coming through with no baggage and they can just go for it.”
Faldo enjoyed watching Europe’s extraordinary comeback victory in last year’s Ryder Cup when they came from 10-6 down to beat the United States 14 1/2-13 1/2 at Valhalla.
“I thought it was possible,” Faldo said. “I knew that if we could win those first couple of (singles) matches on the Sunday then heads would start to turn. And that’s exactly what happened. It was great.”
Faldo, who knows what it is like to carry the burden of British hopes, took time out this month to watch Andy Murray become the nation’s first men’s singles champion at Wimbledon for 77 years.
“Andy did fantastic,” he said. “To handle all that pressure, the 77-year thing and to play like that against Novak Djokovic in the final. He’s made that step from being around number four in the world to the top two in one of the great eras of men’s tennis.
“It’s a great achievement.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez