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Tiger Woods optimistic about catching Jack Nicklaus as British Open at St Andrews nears

Tiger Woods smiles during practice on The Old

Tiger Woods smiles during practice on The Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland, on July 14, 2015, ahead of The 2015 British Open. Credit: Getty Images

ST ANDREWS, Scotland - Tiger Woods remains convinced he can win four more major titles to match the all-time record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus. On Tuesday at St Andrews, where the 2015 British Open begins on Thursday, he was asked if that record is now "a dream too far."

"No, not at all," Woods said. "I'm still young. I'm not 40 yet. I know some of you guys think I'm buried and done, but I'm still right here in front of you. Yeah, I love playing, I love competing and I love these events."

There is no denying that Woods is a genuine long shot to win this week. The former world No. 1 is the current world No. 241 -- an inconceivably low ranking for a 39-year-old golfer who was once indomitable -- but that does not quell Woods' desire to rekindle the form that saw him lift the Claret Jug here twice, in 2000 and 2005.

The optimism is born of a recent "baseline shift" with the swing modifications he is making under the guidance of coach Chris Como, and from bringing his game to the ancient Old Course at St Andrews, Woods' favorite track in world golf.

"I'm very excited to be back here at the 'Home of Golf,' " Woods said. "I have always loved this golf course, from the first time I played it back in 1995. There is just something special about it. I love the creativity. You have to hit all different types of shot here."

It was in 1995 at St Andrews that the 19-year-old amateur Woods made his British Open debut. He finished tied for 68th, but returned to St Andrews five years later to reset some of the game's most significant records. A 72-hole score of 269 was the lowest British Open total ever posted at St Andrews and his 19-under-par mark was a majors record. He won the first of his three British Open titles by eight shots that year, and in 2005, he won here by five.

But that was then, and Woods has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. His last tour win was the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational, and in seven PGA Tour appearances this year, he has missed two cuts, withdrawn through injury once, and his best finish is a tie for 17th in the Masters.

The glimmer of hope for Woods came in the Greenbrier Classic two weeks ago, when a 4-under-par 66 in the first round was his lowest round of the year, although he traces the improvement back to June's Memorial Tournament in Muirfield Village, Ohio.

"I made a pretty big baseline shift at Memorial," said Woods, who had back surgery in March 2014. "Consequently I played well at Greenbrier and hit the ball the best I've hit it in probably two years on the Sunday. That was awfully nice to be able to do coming into this week, and I have hit the ball just as well in my practice rounds here."

Woods tees off in the first round Thursday morning at 9:55 a.m. (4:55 a.m. Eastern time) with Australian Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who won the last British Open at St Andrews in 2010. This group might need to brace themselves ahead of their second-round start -- 2:56 p.m. (9:56 a.m. Eastern time) on Friday -- with gusts of up to 35 mph forecast for Friday afternoon.

"Experience counts a lot with the varied wind conditions," Woods said. "This is my fifth Open here [and] to me it's brilliant how you can play the Old Course in so many different ways."

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