GULLANE, United Kingdom – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will start as British Open favorites at Muirfield July 18-21, but both will have question marks against their names for the year’s third major.
For Woods, the doubt is over a sore left elbow that has sidelined him since a poor showing at the US Open in mid June.
For McIlroy the uncertainty is to do with the poor form that has afflicted him since changing his clubs and balls.
Woods had a great start to the year, winning four tournaments in his first six stroke-play events, finishing in fourth place at the 2013 Masters and regaining the world number one spot from McIlroy.
It seemed odds-on that he would finally add a 15th major title to his career haul, the last coming at the 2008 US Open before he was enveloped in a sex scandal that wrecked his marriage and sullied his reputation.
But all that changed at Merion Golf Club as the inner elbow sprain he picked up in winning the Players Championship was worsened by blasting out of the thick rough that marked the Philadelphia course.
The end result was his worst career showing in finishing a major championship and a quick decision not to play again until the British Open four weeks away.
At the time, Woods said that he was simply heeding medical advice.
“I listened to my docs. I’m not touching a club. We’re treating it and eventually I’ll start the strengthening process of it, then start hitting balls to get up to speed for the British,” he said
Asked if he would be 100 percent fit for Muirfield, Woods replied, “How about GED — good enough.”
“I would like to be 100 percent but I don’t know. It depends on how the body heals. We’ll see how it goes.”
The 37-year-old American, who has won the British Open three times – at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005 and at Hoylake in 2006 – has made no comments on the state of the injury since then.
But with the rough at Muirfield set to be deep and punishing, anything short of full fitness could sink his hopes on a course where he shot his worst ever score as a pro – a 10 over 81 – the last time The Open was held there in 2002.
McIlroy has been similarly quiet in the buildup to The Open. He also struggled at Merion, where he tied for 41st after closing rounds of 75 and 76, before missing the cut at The Irish Open at the end of June.
The 24-year-old Ulsterman admitted that he was still having problems with his new driver and would be meeting with the technical staff of new equipment providers Nike in a bid to sort out the problems that have seen him go winless this year.
Unlike earlier this year, when McIlroy added the Texas Open in the week prior to the Masters, McIlroy was not tempted to tee off in either the French or Scottish Opens, traditional warmups for the British.
“No, I am not going to add a tournament as I am going to take the next two weeks off,” he said in Ireland.
“I have a couple of commitments, including my cousin’s wedding, and then I’m planning to play a first practice round at Muirfield next Monday week, and the start of the week before The Open week,” he said.
Others have taken a different course, with defending champion Ernie Els and four-time major winner Phil Mickelson both playing in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, while Ryder Cup stars such as Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell all opted to compete in France, where McDowell won for the third time this year.
Justin Rose, who will seek to become the first player since Woods in 2000 to win back-to-back US and British Opens, was last seen in action when he tied for 13th at the Travellers Championship in the week after his triumph at Merion.
He then pulled out of the US PGA National tournament at Bethesda, saying that he was tired out both physically and mentally by his efforts and needed to take stock ahead of Muirfield.
The Englishman has since done so and sounded refreshed after a practice round early this week.
“The golf course is in fantastic shape and the R&A have set it up very well strategically,” he said.
“Like any Open Championship it’s going to be important to have a good understanding of links golf. Sometimes you are going to have to ignore the yardage books to hit it to the right places.
“The key next week will be the par fives and the par threes. And as for the rough, it will be very penal if you stray too far off line.”
Muirfield will play an extra 158 yards longer than in 2002 while new tees have been added at seven holes taking the overall distance from 7,034 yards when Els won 11 years ago to 7,192 yards.