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Scores updated at the end of each quarter. Winner
Ardmore, Pa. - It's been five years since Tiger Woods last won a major, but the world's most famous golfer doesn't believe winning them was easier when he did so at a record pace.
"It wasn't ever easy," Woods said Tuesday.
He made it seem that way, claiming 14 major championships in a span of 11 years. But Woods' well-documented dry spell has put his chances of passing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors in jeopardy as he nears his 38th birthday.
Woods in many ways, though, has made it back to the mountaintop. He reclaimed his No. 1 world ranking earlier this year, has already won four times this season, and outdueled the deepest field to win the Players Championship in early May.
Except for a hiccup at the Memorial two weeks ago, in which he finished 20 strokes behind winner Matt Kuchar, Woods enters the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club playing his best golf in years.
"I didn't play well," Woods said of his Memorial outing that included a 44 front nine in the third round. "I didn't putt well. I didn't really do much that I was pleased about. But it was just one of those weeks. It happens. And move on from there."
So will Woods finally remove the five-year monkey from his back this week and does the short, but tricky Merion, in any way, give the still-long hitter an advantage over his rivals?
"A lot of majors that I won were on either the first or second time I'd ever seen it," said Woods, who only played Merion for the first time last month. "So it was never easy. The practice rounds are imperative. Doing scouting trips are very important, just like it is for this week.
"I came up here early ... getting a little feel for this golf course. I had to do all that stuff. But then I have to go out and execute and go out and win an event."
After 17 years on the tour, Woods is no longer the wunderkind who took the golfing world by storm. He's still the top draw, and obviously playing well, but the sprite Rory McIroy and the burgeoning Adam Scott - Woods' playing partners for Thursday and Friday - have just as good a chance at winning.
Woods, asked if he still carried a 1-iron in his bag, made light of his advancing age.
"The running joke out here is, well, when I got here in my teens I used a 1-iron, in my 20's I used a 2-iron, and in my 30's I used a 5-wood," Woods said. "You see where this is going, right? ... So I'm shaping an 11-wood from about 120 out there, when I get older."
Despite the added length since the Open was last held at Merion, it's still a much shorter course than most modern major venues. It should bring a number of players back into the fold. But much will depend on the conditions, which were altered by two significant rainfalls on Friday and Monday.
It's supposed to rain Thursday, as well, before drying out on the weekend.
"I don't think we have an exact feel for it yet, what we're going to have to do and what we're going to have to shoot," Woods said. "The conditions keep changing."
Softer greens will allow for golfers to throw darts at tough pins. But the wet conditions could lead to balls that get muddy, as Woods noted, and perhaps a greater element of luck.
"I've played Opens under both conditions where it's dry and soft," Woods said. "I've won on both conditions, which is nice. At Torrey (Pines) it was dry. Pebble (Beach) was dry. And Bethpage (Black) was soft and slow."
Woods countered that there was an element of luck in every tournament. His third shot at the 15th hole in the second round of the Masters hit the pin and spun back into the water. He subsequently took a drop that was later deemed illegal and was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
Despite the controversy - some believed he should have been disqualified - Woods never recovered. Drama followed him to the Players when he and Sergio Garcia had a few awkward moments and did little to hide their distaste for one another.
Garcia later told a joke about serving Woods fried chicken this week. Garcia said Tuesday that he placed a handwritten apology in his rival's locker. Woods hoped to put the incident in the past.
He's focused on the future and still as committed to besting Nicklaus as he ever was.
"It's still about winning the event," Woods said. "That's why I played as a junior, all the way through to now is just to try to kick everyone's butt. That to me is the rush. That's the fun. That's the thrill."