Tiger Woods is hopeful that the special appeal of St Andrews can inspire him to a third successive Open Championship victory at St Andrews next week.
The 34-year old world number one improved by ten strokes on his first day effort when he carded a three-under par 69 in the second round of the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am near Limerick on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference after his round, Woods was visibly annoyed as he fended off questions about his private life.
But he was enthusiastic about his chances of winning his 15th major title in the 150th Anniversary Open at the St Andrews, where he won the Claret Jug by eight strokes in 2000 and by a margin of five in 2005.
“It’s what I think every champion wants to have happen in their career,” said Woods, who won his third Open title at Royal Liverpool in 2006. “This is where it all started and to win at the home of golf, it has such a special feeling walking up the last.
“I’ve had that feeling in major championships before and other ones, but this one is different because of the history behind it.”
Speaking of his love affair with St Andrews, where he first played in 1995, Woods added: “That’s as good as it gets for your introduction to links golf. I just fell in love with it because the lines and angles are not what people say they are.
“People say that if you hit it miles left, you are fine. But you have no angle.”
Woods finished tied for 46th in last week’s AT&T National in Pennsylvania, but feels his game is improving ahead of the season’s third major.
“I felt I made some good strides last week. I drove it great last week and just putted terrible and consequently finished way down the board,” Woods said. “I’m going to really work on my lag putting and make sure that’s organised because there are a lot of big, long, lag putts at St Andrews.”
Adding that tight pin positions would put an extra onus on strategic play, he said: “It takes a lot of imagination to win. You look at past champions at St Andrews, a lot of them have great short games and great imagination and ball control.”
Woods confessed that competition would be fierce at St Andrews with in-form veterans such as two-time Open champion Ernie Els and Masters champion Phil Mickelson joined by younger stars such as Rory McIlroy, US Open champion Graeme McDowell and Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa.
Woods congratulated McDowell on his victory at Pebble Beach when they met on the first tee at Adare Manor.
“He played great. He played consistent. He played wonderful US Open golf and that’s what you have to do,” Woods said of 30-year old McDowell’s win. “You have to plod your way around and he did that. He made the fewest mistakes and that’s what always wins (US) Opens.”
As for the younger generation, he pointed to 21-year old McIlroy and 18-year old Japanese sensation Ishikawa as players who have the game to contend.
“There are a lot of people, including Rory,” Woods said. “He’s already won on our tour (at Quail Hollow in May). He has the talent. There’s so many players now that have had a lot of success around the world, one being Ryo. It will be a fun test for everybody.”
Woods was not so forthcoming when questioning strayed to his personal life and the fall-out from his admission to carrying on a string of extra-marital affairs.
Asked why he was jetting straight back to the United States instead of remaining in Ireland or the UK to practice on links courses, he answered tersely: “Because I need to get home.”
When asked my a reporter if his decision to return to Orlando was due to “personal stuff”, Woods glared at his questioner and replied: “See my kids.”
Another reporter asked Woods if he felt his multiple infidelities had been worth it given his relatively poor form since returning to the game.
“I think you are reading too deep into this,” Woods replied.
Woods said that off-course problems had helped him put golf in perspective in the past and had done so again.
“Golf is something that I’ve done for a very long time and there are time’s in one’s life when things get put in perspective; one being when my father passed away (in 2006), and obviously what I’ve been going through lately.”
An estimated 40,000 fans braved heavy showers and high winds to watch Woods and a star-studded field that featured 13 of the world’s top 20 players.
There were no reports of unruly comments from the gallery and the American revealed that the support of the fans and his fellow professionals is helping him overcome his personal problems.
“That’s been the nice thing about playing and competing,” he said. “I have a lot of friends out here and it’s nice to see a lot of my friends that I haven’t seen in a while, especially touring pros.
“And the fans have been incredible since I’ve come back. That part has been…. I couldn’t ask for a better return.”
The two-day pro-am organised by Irish businessman JP McManus has raised over €55million euro since 1990 and Woods was delighted to make his flying visit to Ireland to support a worth cause.
“Everyone was just thoroughly excited to come out and support this event,” Woods said. “And for me as a player, it’s always fun to play in front of people like that.”
Woods has played six PGA Tour events since he came back from a five-month break from the game, contrasting ties for fourth place in the US Masters and the US Open with a missed cut at Quail Hollow and a final round withdrawal with a neck injury when well off the pace in the Players championship at Sawgrass.
“Well, I hurt myself early,” Woods said of his form so far this year. “Unfortunately that put a damper on things. But I fell like I’m right on pace. Normally this is about April for the amount of tournaments I’ve played. That’s about right.”