Tiger practices early, says elbow fine

GULLANE, Scotland -- Although he was again prevented from teeing off at Muirfield before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, Tiger Woods said he had no problem with the restriction and was set to play a limited number of practice holes anyway in preparation for the Open Championship that begins Thursday.

The left elbow injury that caused Woods problems during the U.S. Open at Merion last month and kept him from playing in two tournaments afterward is also causing Woods to take the cautious approach as he prepares for what will be his 17th Open Championship.

"I was always going to just play nine [holes] each day," Woods said Tuesday after his third nine-hole practice round at Muirfield. "That was the plan, not to push it on the amount of holes, especially on hard ground. I've been playing a lot at home. But it's Florida, it rains every day, it's soft. It's two totally different conditions.

"I just wanted to make sure that I'm rested and feel fit and ready to go for the championship. I've done a lot of homework on the greens each day. And I've taken my time and really got a good feel for them. So that's been good. I would just like to get another wind in, a little different direction. We've had it the same the last three days."

Woods has not played a competitive round since he tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open at Merion on June 16, when his elbow problem was apparent from the first hole of the tournament. Woods favored it when he hit shots from the rough and admitted Tuesday that it caused discomfort.

"It didn't feel good. It didn't feel good, especially in the rough," he said. "That rough was dense, and it was lush. You go from whatever it is, let's say 100-some-odd miles an hour to virtually zero. And that was the tough part about it. I really couldn't get through it. And it put a lot of torque on it, and it hurt.

"Conversely, just stay out of the damn thing. Put it in the fairway and put it on the green and make your putts. It's not like I was drawing bad lies on those tee boxes. You just have to stay out of it."

Woods reported that his "elbow feels good. It's one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it. The main reason was that coming over here the ground is going to be hard, obviously. And I'm going to need that elbow to be good. I needed to have this thing set and healed. And everything is good to go."

The rough won't be much fun here, either, but Woods is likely to hit numerous irons off tees. He also did that in 2006 when he won at Royal Liverpool, where he hit just one driver all week.

Much like the course known as Hoylake, Muirfield is playing hard and fast. The weather has been excellent, with little rain of late and plenty of wind. That means the ball travels a long way on a links that is known for producing great champions such as Ernie Els, Nick Faldo (twice), Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Woods, who shot his highest round as a pro here -- an 81 in 2002 -- has not been back since that tournament and is doing his best to learn the layout.

To that end, he attempted to get an early start on Monday and was prepared to tee off at 6:40 a.m. before being stopped by tournament officials who advised him that no one was allowed on the course before 7 a.m. This is due, in part, to course-maintenance practices but also the desire to let spectators see as much of the players as possible.

"I like getting up early, especially when the sun comes up at 4 in the morning here. It's hard to sleep in," he said. "And I don't sleep much to begin with. It's light early. I've always liked coming out here.

"Peter [Dawson, the R&A's chief executive] was explaining that he's having the grounds crew cut it from No. 1 through 18 as a routine, to get them accustomed to that pattern for the championship. That's one of the reasons he wants us to tee off at 7 on the first tee. I totally understand it."

Woods, 37, is ranked No. 1 in the world and has won four times this year on the PGA Tour but has now gone five years since winning his last major championship. His last victory at the Open Championship came in 2006.

"I think it's just a shot here and there," he said. "It's making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there. For instance, this year at Augusta was one of those examples. I really played well, and a good shot [at the 15th hole on Friday] ended up having a bad break.

"So it's a shot here and a shot there, it's not much. It could happen on the first day, it could happen on the last day. But it's turning that tide and getting the momentum at the right time or capitalizing on our opportunity. That's what you have to do to win major championships."