Only Tiger Woods knows what’s best for him.
The question is whether that’s going to be good enough to win the British Open this week at Royal Portrush.
It would be somewhere between Pollyanna and irresponsible not to question Woods’ preparation strategy for this British Open.
For the second major championship this year Woods has opted not to play a warmup tournament beforehand. The previous time he did it — after winning the Masters in April — that strategy seemed to backfire at the PGA Championship in May.
Woods understandably opted to bask in his win at Augusta National and took some time off to enjoy the 15th major championship most people (including himself) thought he might never win. But he looked rusty and unprepared when he turned up at Bethpage Black for the PGA Championship a month later, and he missed the cut after shooting 5-over in two rounds.
If you’re a Woods fan and are desperate to see him break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, this has to be concerning. Woods has given off an overwhelming vibe of utter satisfaction since his Masters victory.
Woods, in his brilliant career, never used to be one to bask in any of his accomplishments. He used to check off boxes and ruthlessly move on to the next task at hand. Perhaps that was a part of what made him so successful, such a relentless winner.
But Woods is in a different phase of his life now, with two children now old enough to understand his career and with this new lease on his professional life after it seemed four back surgeries had derailed it forever.
The reality, whether or not he’s honest enough to admit this to himself, is this: Not even the great Woods can simply press a button and perform at his highest level after not preparing properly.
It’s clear Woods doesn’t have the same drive he once had, and that’s understandable. A big part of the fact he doesn’t grind as much between major championships as he did in the past has to do with the fact his 43-year-old surgically-repaired body won’t allow him to do so.
After finishing tied for 21st at the U.S. Open last month and Pebble Beach, Woods took his family on a vacation to Thailand — the homeland of his mother, Tida, and returned home to Florida a week-and-a-half ago.
Will a week’s worth of practice — presumably at Medalist, Woods’ home club in Florida — translate to a winning performance at Portrush, a links course in Northern Ireland he’s never seen?
That remains to be seen. But if we’re going by recent results, it doesn’t bode well for him winning his 16th career major tournament and tying Sam Snead for the most all-time wins on the PGA Tour at 82.
Paul Azinger, the former multiple PGA Tour winner who’s now the lead analyst on NBC’s golf broadcast, is one who believes Woods is still experiencing a “Masters hangover.’’ Azinger went as far as to speculate the Masters victory might adversely affect Woods beyond this week’s British Open.
“I am not quite as high on Tiger as I was before he won The Masters, because of the mountain-top experience,’’ Azinger told The Post. “I’m never going to count Tiger out of the majors. He won the Masters. [But] it felt like it made him too content. It’s the most content I’ve ever seen him. Tiger has never looked satisfied.
“Don’t get me wrong, he’s [been] happy in the moment, celebrating big shots. But the next day, he’s moving on. This Masters, he’s not moving on yet. That was such a mountain-top experience, I think it’s going to be hard for Tiger to ever win anything again.
“That was almost like the cherry on top of the cake. That’s what it looks like, what it felt like. I hope it’s not the cherry on top of the cake.’’
Betting against Woods has never been a smart investment, but that was then (when he was winning his first 14 majors and dominating the sport) and this is now.
One multiple major champion, Irishman Padraig Harrington, recently questioned Woods’ approach to this Open Championship.
“I personally think if you’re serious about winning The Open, you’ve got to be playing tournament golf at least before it,’’ Harrington told reporters in advance of the Irish Open. “Links golf is different. You’re giving up some shots if you don’t play some links golf in the couple of weeks coming up to it.’’
Twice in his career Woods has won major championships when not playing a tournament in between — the 1999 PGA Championship and the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I’ve never been up to Portrush, and I’m looking forward to getting up there and taking a look at the golf course and trying to figure it out,” Woods said after the U.S. Open. “[I] definitely have to do my homework once I get there.’’
Only Woods knows what’s best for him. We’ll see if it’s good enough.