DUBLIN, OHIO – The last time Tiger Woods played the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, he shot 85 during the third round and finished last among the players who made the cut – by eight strokes.
That was three years and three back surgeries ago and the Woods who returns this week looks more like the player who has won 79 PGA Tour events than the guy who had no control over his golf game the last time he was here.
From what Jack Nicklaus has seen, he believes Woods will win again and add to his 14 major championship victories, perhaps at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in two weeks.
“I think Tiger will be in contention for quite awhile. I think that he’ll win when he believes it himself between his ears. When he really starts to believe that – and maybe winning here would be one thing that would, he would start to believe that he could do that,” Nicklaus said Tuesday.
“So wherever it might be. But I think he’ll win and do I think he’ll win majors again? Yeah, I think he’ll win majors again.”
Woods had a three-tournament stretch in Florida in March when he finished no lower than 12th and had chances to win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Valspar Championship.
In both instances, Woods made late mistakes that undercut his efforts to win for the first time since 2013. While Nicklaus marvels at Woods’ ability to return from spinal fusion surgery – he admits he thought Woods’ career was over when he had the procedure – the last step in his return is getting comfortable again with the process of winning.
“We all have to learn how to win again,” Nicklaus said. “I remember in the ’86 Masters I hadn’t won for a couple years and I got to the last round and I got into the back nine and I kept struggling, I couldn’t get really going the front nine. And finally I made a putt at (No.) 9 and finally I remembered how to play. But I had, I struggled with … learning how to play.
“I holed a couple of putts and all of a sudden you remember, particularly if you’ve been a champion at one time, you’ll remember and you have that to draw on. That’s what I had to draw on.
“Tiger has it to draw on. But he has got to get through the barrier of not having done it for awhile. When you haven’t won that always happens and that’s human nature. But when you got a guy that’s as good as he is and as competitive as he is, he’ll break through that barrier. I mean, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Tiger win this week, not at all. I mean I think he’s playing well, I think he loves the golf course, he’s always played well here, and his remembrance of what he’s done here will come back into his head. That will help him play better.”