Can Tiger roar once again at Royal Lytham?

The needle on the gauge has oscillated all season. One week it aims firmly at the point that says "he's back" and the next it veers to an area that suggests "he's not".
Call it the Tigerometre and golf's current barometric conditions mean the indicator shows he has emphatically returned to the "back" phase.
Tiger Woods at the 2006 Open
This is because Tiger Woods has won again. After his triumph in his own PGA Tour event at Congressional last Sunday he is the only player with three victories to his name in 2012.His previous two wins came in his final outings before the opening pair of majors this season. He claimed the Bay Hill title ahead of the Masters and the Memorial in his build up to the US Open.

Yet at both majors he flattered to deceive. At Augusta he was so out of sorts many pundits were absurdly calling him to sack coach Sean Foley while at the US Open he squandered the halfway lead over a miserable Olympic Club weekend.

In a change to his usual scheduling, Woods plays again this week at the Greenbrier in his final tune up for the year's third major, the Open Championship.

So which Mr Woods will turn up at Royal Lytham and St Annes? Will it be the one that has taken him beyond Jack Nicklaus's 73 PGA titles or will it be the one that has left him stuck four majors short of Nicklaus's tally in the tournaments that matter most?

It's hard to judge. Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since winning the 2008 US Open on one leg. His subsequent fitness and personal problems have been well documented and go a long way to explaining his barren run in the majors.

But it is worth looking at the 2009 season for more evidence of why it has been such a struggle for Woods to land his 15th grand slam title.

That was the year he won tournaments in each of his last appearances before all four majors but failed to sustain such winning form on the biggest stages.

This was pre-scandal and at a time when his aura was at its strongest - after all this was the guy who had won a US Open with a broken leg. It was a superhuman effort, yet a year later there were clear frailties and at the Open at Turnberry he missed the cut.

More significantly, for the first time he failed to win a major after leading going into the final round when YE Yang stood up to Woods at the PGA Championship. It's a well-used line, but eternally apposite; it was the end of an aura.

Later that year he hit the hydrant and his knee and Achilles have subsequently played up on several occasions.

These days players are much less likely to fear Tiger Woods because they know he is as prone to human frailty as they are. Maybe even more so.

It is probably harder than it has ever been for Woods to win a major. So many players can win them. We have had 15 different winners in the last 15 majors and none of those golfers shared the same burden of expectation as the current world number four.

So is he back? Of course he is. His swing is as good as it has been in years and his putting touch seems to be improving as well.

Is he back to where he was at the height of his powers? Of course not. It would be utterly amazing if he were ever to get close again.

Nevertheless, Woods, currently number four in the world, stands every chance of making it back to number one. He might not even need to win a major to do that - Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are living proof of that possibility.

But he won't be a top dog with the colossal points lead that he used to command. Those days are gone.

And is Woods going to win a fourth Open title later this month? Maybe, but he should be thought of as only one member of a huge group of potential winners, not the out and out favourite. The same applies at August's PGA at Kiawah.

The reason for this is that, although he is a 14-time champion, the 2012 version of Tiger seems at his most fallible at the majors.

He plays with a similar weight of pressure to that felt by the likes of Donald and Westwood who are trying to win their first major - and Woods is coping about as well as them.

Even so, it is a big fillip for golf that the former number one is proving dominant once again at rank and file events on the PGA Tour. He brings a unique buzz and we will undoubtedly feel its benefits at Lytham.

But that is as far as it goes. It's anyone's guess what reading the Tigerometre will provide by the time we reach Sunday night of Open week.

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