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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Tiger Woods ready for Carnoustie challenge ahead of British Open return 

Former world No 1 missed the last two tournaments with injury, while defending champion Spieth is hoping short break will help fix issues

Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas play a practice round at Carnoustie ahead of the British Open. Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas play a practice round at Carnoustie ahead of the British Open. Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Tiger Woods believes Carnoustie is the toughest course in the British Open rotation as the former world No 1 aims to tame the famous Scottish links in pursuit of his 15th major title.

Woods, 42, will be teeing off at the British Open for the first time since missing the cut in 2015 at St Andrews - the venue where the American won two of his three Open trophies.

Woods missed all four major tournaments - US Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship - in 2016 and 2017 due to back injuries that threatened to end his long and illustrious career.

This season, however, Woods has shown glimpses of his past form, registering three top-five finishes including a tied-fourth in his last outing at the Quicken Loans National.

Woods, currently No 70 in the golf world rankings, has been grouped with Japan's world No 16 Hideki Matsuyama and Russell Knox, the world No 49 from Scotland, for the first two rounds at Carnoustie.

"It has been a while and I've certainly missed it," said Woods, who won the British Open in 2000, 2005 and 2006. "This is the oldest tournament we have in our sport.

"Carnoustie is special. This is my fourth time playing it as a tournament. From my first time coming here as an amateur to being back now, it's just amazing how this course doesn’t change.

"It's probably the most difficult one we play in the whole rotation."

Woods, Matsuyama and Knox, winner of the Irish Open two weeks ago, will tee-off at 3.21pm (6.21pm UAE) local time on Thursday.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth will begin his bid to retain the Claret Jug at 9.58am alongside Justin Rose of England and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

Spieth, who won the 2017 Open with a remarkable wire-to-wire victory at Royal Birkdale, has struggled for his consistency this season, with two top-three finishes at the Houston Open and the Masters.

In the seven events since the Masters, Spieth has missed the cut three times and failed to crack the top-20, leading the American to take a short break from the game.

“My game feels good," Spieth, 24, said. I needed a break. I was dragging along playing cutline golf for a while. I had a pretty heavy schedule and I needed to get away from the game which I did.

"Coming to an Open Championship requires a lot of feel and imagination and that’s what I’ve needed a bit of in my game."

Tommy Fleetwood will play his first two rounds at Carnoustie with two former major winners in American Jimmy Walker and Sweden's Henrik Stenson, with the group set to tee off on Thursday at 12.31pm local time.

Fleetwood, who in January won back-to-back Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship titles, finished second behind Brooks Koepka at the US Open last month.

Koepka's victory at Shinnecock Hills means American players hold all four golf majors, and Fleetwood is aiming to break that dominance at Carnoustie.

“America has an exceptional bunch of players at the moment. They have generally been the best players in the world at the time that they have won the majors," he said.

“But it would nice to break that run and I am trying to do it. After the US Open, I wanted the Open to come straight away because I was on such a high.

"I had that momentum and I just wanted to be here. I’ve had some time off but again it was more proof to me that I can finish 72 holes and be up there.

“This week is another test against the best players in the world in the biggest tournament in world golf.

“There is no reason why I couldn't do it but the good thing about results like the US Open is that it shows I have to the game to win.”

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the 2014 British Open champion, will tee off at 12.53pm with Australia's Marc Leishman and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark, while world No 1 Dustin Johnson will be joined in the 1.04pm group by Sweden's Alex Noren and fellow American Charley Hoffman.

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