ST. ANDREWS, July 13 – Tiger Woods has dominated the past two British Opens staged at St. Andrews, but the world number one returns to the Old Course this week haunted by scandal as he seeks a 15th major title.Woods is off to the worst season start of his career, winless in his first six events of the year in the wake of a sex scandal that shattered his iconic image and saw him admit cheating on wife Elin with multiple mistresses.
After a five-month hiatus, Woods shared fourth at the Masters in his return to golf and matched that showing in June’s US Open at Pebble Beach.
"Everyone has had distractions in their lives," Woods said. "I think that my life out here on tour is becoming more normalized getting out here and talking about the game of golf."
But Woods has also missed a cut, withdrawn with injury and went four rounds without breaking par for the first time since 1999 outside a major in his last Open tuneup.
Woods, chasing the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, dismissed the idea that the sex scandal has hurt his game, saying last week, "I think you are reading too deep into this."
A British newspaper report says Woods will pay Elin at least 750 million dollars in a divorce settlement that keeps her from talking about Woods’ affairs and keeps him from having their children around unmarried women.
Both Sam, 3, and Charlie, 1, will remain with their mother even though both parents will share legal custody, according to the Sun newspaper.
Also, internet reports say lawyers for Woods have filed US court papers to challenge the claim of a porn star that Woods is the father of her child.
Woods will aim to return the focus to his golfing when he tees off Thursday alongside England’s Justin Rose and Colombia’s Camilo Villegas in the first round of the 150th anniversary Open.
"I’m sure we’ve all had distractions in our lives," Rose said. "To bring your best onto the golf course when you’re being probably depleted in so many other areas mentally – it’s difficult."
Woods, who declared St. Andrews unplayable during a wind-swept Sunday practice round, hopes to duplicate the form that saw him fire a 66 in the third round at the US Open to put himself in the title hunt.
"I’m starting to head in the right direction," Woods said. "I’ve just got to be more consistent and string together more rounds like I did on Saturday at the Open."
Woods missed the cut in last year’s British Open at Turnberry, only the second time as a professional he has failed to finish 72 holes at a major.
But Woods says he has gone back to basics with his putter in order to find the touch he used to win by eight strokes at The Home of Golf in 2000, a margin bettered only by Old and Young Tom Morris in the 1800s, and five shots in 2005.
"I have been driving it on a string. The club feels so good in my hands," Woods said. "I went back to my fundamentals with my putting and my stroke feels good."
Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, second to Woods on the Old Course five years ago, warned that Woods has every chance to become the first three-time Open winner at St. Andrews if his touch on the greens is back on form.
"He knows the course well enough," Montgomerie said. "If he brings that fantastic putting stroke of his to the course, he’ll have every chance to win again."