ON the face of things, it seems ridiculous to think a player who’s played only two competitive rounds since March could even have a chance of winning next week’s Open Championship.
When the individual in question – Tiger Woods – has claimed victory in a US Open before when he was hirpling along due to a leg injury, however, Rory McIlroy believes anything is possible when the 14-times major winner is about.
But Woods will be making his first major appearance of the season in the Claret Jug joust at Royal Liverpool, having missed both The Masters and US Open as he recovered from back surgery.
Ahead of schedule, he made his return in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional a fortnight ago but struggled to dust off the rust as he missed the cut.
In the circumstances, his chances of returning to Hoylake and repeating his 2006 triumph at the Merseyside venue appear to be slim, with the bookies, for once, not having him as the favourite.
McIlroy, at 12-1, holds that tag this time, but he pointed to Woods’ victory in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines as good reason why it would be a mistake for anyone to write off the American next week.
“We have all witnessed what Tiger has been able to do over his career, whether that’s coming back from injury and winning or coming back from any sort of off-course stuff and winning,” he said.
“I mean, to win the US Open on one leg, really on one leg! Is it foolish for people to write him off? I would say so.
“He’s got as good a chance as any as I still think he can do things that we have never seen from any other golfer.
“He’s missed a good chunk of the season and wants to at least get into the FedExCup Playoffs and try and push for a Ryder Cup spot, so I wouldn’t write him off completely.”
Justin Rose, who shares the same coach (Sean Foley) and manager (Mark Steinberg) as the former world No 1, believes Woods will have taken confidence from his return even though it ended prematurely.
“I would say for him to compete at the Quicken Loans was a step too early, but I always believe that a player’s first event back should be regarded as their final step of rehab,” observed last year’s US Open champion.
“You need to test yourself in the moment so it was important to see if he was serious about being in contention in the Open Championship.”