Putter will be key for Tiger at British

Tiger Woods has played six tournaments this year and has yet to win.

It's been his slowest start to a season since 1998 -- the year he rebuilt his golf swing under Butch Harmon -- when he didn't break through till his ninth start.

Maybe seven will be his lucky number.

It doesn't hurt his chances that the 150th British Open championship is being played on his favourite course, where Woods has won two of his three claret jugs.

"I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing, and I understand how to play this golf course," Woods said Tuesday after completing a third practice round in uncharacteristically pleasant conditions.

"It's a matter of going out there and putting it together at the right time."

He hasn't been able to put much together, at any time, this year. Perhaps understandably, given the turmoil of his private life.

Although he soft-shoes questions about the impact the off-the-course upheaval has had on his play, the fact is that -- with the exception of the third round of the U.S. Open -- he's been a shadow of the player who majestically won here by eight strokes in 2000 -- a performance he rates above his 15-shot win at Pebble Beach that year -- and by five in 2005.

What's strange is how inept Woods has been on and around the greens this year. The short game's historically been his strong suit.

"The one part of Tiger's game this year that has been very sub-standard is his putting," said caddie Steve Williams in an interview with

"He hasn't putted well in any of his events.

"Putting is the key element -- that's the difference between winning and not winning, and Tiger has had a lot of ups and downs with his putter. He's renowned as a good putter based on the fact that he holes a lot of putts when you have to, but there's been no consistency in his putting. It's been poor in every tournament he's played. It has been frustrating, no two ways about it."

The always straight-shooting Williams said Woods needed to find his stroke again because "the key to playing well at St. Andrews is putting."

To that end, Woods has replaced his putter of more than a decade with a new Nike model which he believes will help on the slower St Andrews greens, which Woods on Tuesday described as "not up to speed."

"I've always struggled on slower greens," he said.

"I always feel more comfortable when the greens get quick. Some of my best putting rounds were when the greens were running at 14 or something like that on the stimp."

The ball "does come off faster" with his new putter, allowing Woods to make the same stroke and not have to worry about hitting putts harder.

Woods comes to St. Andrews seeking to become the first man to ever win three British Opens here. There's a lot of significance to this week for Woods, though in his inimitable way, he tried to play it all down Tuesday.

"I'm here to play a championship, and this is the Open Championship at St Andrews," he said, "I mean, this is as good as it gets. It's the home of golf."

Asked what winning would mean given the nosedive his public image has taken over the past eight months, Woods shrugged.

"I would like to win, no matter what," he said, "It would be nice. It would be really nice."

A week after being criticised for his prickly responses at an Irish news conference, Woods was on his best behaviour as the British media probed at him. He was, as one wag commented, "killing us with kindness."

"Just trying to become a better person," he answered to one of several questions about his personal life.

When asked whether he understood that not everyone was willing to forgive him for his indiscretions, he shrugged.

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion," he said.

"All that really matters is that I have two beautiful kids and I'm trying to be the best dad I can possibly be, and that's the most important thing of all."

Notably, he didn't mention anything about being the best husband he could be. Given the fact that his marriage is on the verge of ending, it was understandable.

"I'm not going into that," Woods responded when asked whether he was already divorced.

The session only once got testy, when a reporter inferred Woods was not happy during his morning practice round.

"I was fine this morning," he said, "I don't know what you are talking about."

When the reporter reiterated that Woods "looked a little upset," Woods jumped back with "not at all."

Woods was, as always, most loquacious when it came to questions about golf.

He was especially expansive about St. Andrews, which he clearly loves.

"The brilliancy of how this golf course was designed (is) that it's still able to withstand the test of time. Players have gotten longer, equipment has changed, but still, this golf course is still relevant."