Tiger Woods says only first place is acceptable

FROM HOYLAKE, England

Tiger Woods was introspective. He was friendly. He was defiant.

But was he ready?

It was Tuesday before a major, this week's British Open at Royal Liverpool. It was Tiger Talks Day. He meets the media and gives an update on perhaps the current longest-running soap opera in sports: Will Tiger Ever Be Tiger Again?

It has been going on since he last won a Grand Slam golf tournament, his 14th, at the Torrey Pines U.S. Open in 2008.

Hard to forget that one — Tiger limping around on a knee with no cartilage left and a small fracture in his leg; a gutty birdie on No. 18 to tie Rocco Mediate in regulation, and then another 19 holes of playoff limping on a Monday before winning.

He was 32. The future was so rosy that no fertilizer, sun or water was needed. Get the leg fixed, then go out and sail past Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors and don't look back.

Oops.

Six years have come and gone. So have many major tournament opportunities, some lost to injury and more to mediocre golf. It was usually just one bad round, or a few bad holes. But the old Tiger would never have tolerated what the new Tiger does now.

Nicklaus' standard once looked like one of those swimming world records that gets broken six times in a day at the Olympics. Now, it looks like Joe DiMaggio and 56 games.

Tiger is a speculation magnet. He is a rainy-day gift from heaven for sports talk radio. People who don't know a tee box from a shoe box want to know about Tiger. No other golfers. Just Tiger.

Is he finished? Is he poised for another run? Is he too old now? Does he want it too much? Is the rest of the field no longer intimidated by him? Are there just more good players now?

People who love Tiger want to know. People who don't love Tiger and say they don't want to know still want to know. They just deny it.

He is a Blake Griffin slam dunk, a 15-car Indy wreck. You can't stop watching.

Lots of that is his own fault. Besides being a great golfer, he did the celebrity thing by having a marital dust-up over other women and then crashed his car in his Florida driveway with an angry wife nearby.

That elevated (reduced?) him to supermarket tabloid stardom.

Now, we have little additional to go on, but we keep trying.

The update is that he is here, has played several practice rounds on a course where he won his third British Open and his 11th major in 2006. He says he is ready.

Media question: Given your limited preparation coming in here, what would be an acceptable finish for you this weekend?

Woods: First.

Followup question: Anything less than that would be unacceptable?

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