Getting ready for Tiger & Co

Jack Nicklaus, left, talks with Tiger Woods after Woods won the Memorial golf tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, Sunday, June 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Jack Nicklaus, left, talks with Tiger Woods after Woods won the Memorial golf tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, Sunday, June 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

THE countdown clock is ticking to the start of The Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes, which gets under way on July 19, attracting the top players in the game.

Preparations are well advanced and club members are playing 18 holes against the backdrop of grandstands, which will be full to capacity by the time the Championship gets under way in earnest and the tranquil scene is transformed.

The giant scoreboard is another structure to dominate the landscape of a world famous venue that first staged The Open in 1926.

And one man who will soon be stalking the fairway with committed intent is Tiger Woods, who made his Open debut in 1996 when he won the silver medal as the leading amateur.

Since then, his rise has been meteoric and, though there was a dip in form and a well-publicised fall from grace in his private life, he is peaking in time for next week’s US Open and the Lytham event in July.

Indeed, Woods could be back at world No.1 by the time he arrives at Lytham.

Everything seems possible again for Woods after he produced what Jack Nicklaus called “one of the most incredible shots you will ever see” en route to winning a fifth Memorial Tournament.

Event host Nicklaus was among the first to congratulate the 36-year-old as he matched his 73 PGA Tour victories, leaving only Sam Snead to catch on 82.

“He had to rub it in my face right here, didn’t he?” Nicklaus said, to great laughter. “No, if he’s going to do it, which he was obviously going to, I’d like to see it happen here.

“That was good. That was great.”

Woods, back up to fourth in the rankings, now hopes to move three behind the Golden Bear’s 18 Major record at next week’s United States Open in San Francisco.

He has been stuck on 14 for four years but, if he wins at the Olympic Club, the number one spot – currently in the hands of Luke Donald – will be in range again.

The magic shot came at Muirfield Village’s short 16th.

Woods was one behind Rory Sabbatini and over the green in rough.

The flag was down a slope and beyond it was a lake.

“It was where he had to land it, what he had to do and what the penalties were if he didn’t make it,” Nicklaus said.

“I don’t think under the circumstances I’ve ever seen a better shot.”

It impressed Woods too.

He gave one of his famous fist pumps and trademark roars as the ball dropped and, after adding another birdie at the last, he spoke about yet another comeback win.

This was his third in six months, but followed finishes of 40th at the Masters and Players’ Championship and a missed cut at Quail Hollow in between.

He said: “To pull off that shot at 16 was pretty sweet, but to be able to tie Jack at 73 wins – and to do it at such a young age – feels really special.”

Nicklaus was 46 when his 73rd came in the 1986 Masters.

And so it is Olympic Club next stop – he also went to the Masters on the back of a win and was all over the show there – then the AT&T National at the end of the month, the Greenbrier Classic on July 5-8, and then Lytham a fortnight later.

Timetable of events in the run up to The Open 2012:

June 25: European final qualifying: Suunningdale

June 25: Regional qualifying: Abridge, Berwick-Upon-Tweed (Goswick) Bruntsfield Links, Buckinghamshire, Clitheroe, Coventry, East Sussex National, Ferndown, Hankley Common, Lindrick, Mere, Moortown, Royal Dublin, The London

July 3: Local final qualifying: Southport and Ainsdale, St Annes Old Links, West Lancashire

July 16-18: World Junior Open, Fairhaven

July 19-22: Open Championship, Royal Lytham and St Annes