GULLANE, Scotland -- British Open champions at Muirfield are more likely to be found on a ballot for the Hall of Fame than the bottom of a betting sheet. It has never been known as a haven for long shots, which would seem to bode well for someone like Tiger Woods.

Even so, Woods struggled to find the right definition of an "outsider" when asked Tuesday about the trend of high-caliber winners at Muirfield.

"You probably can't say that given the fact that over the past, what, five years or so ... that we've had first-time winners at virtually every single major," Woods said.

Eighteen players have won the last 20 majors, the most diverse collection of major champions in some 25 years. Fourteen of them had never won a major.

Tiger Woods of the US smiles during a press conference ahead of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Tuesday July 16, 2013. (AP
Tiger Woods of the US smiles during a press conference ahead of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Tuesday July 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Perhaps it was more than just a coincidence when Woods dated this trend to the last five years.

Because that's when he stopped winning them.

"There's certainly a connection between so many different winners and Tiger not winning one," Graeme McDowell said. "Because we all know when he gets in the mood, he likes to win a few.

"I think in the period when Tiger kind of went missing for a couple of years there, it gave a lot of players a chance to step up to the plate and show how healthy the game of golf is, get their confidence up and win the big ones and really get a bit of belief in themselves."

Times sure have changed since the British Open last came to this links course along the Firth of Forth. In 2002, the question was whether Woods was going to win all four majors in a single year. Eleven years later, not a major goes by without him being asked when he's going to win one -- any of them -- again.

The drought is at 16 majors, stretched over five years, since Woods hobbled and winced his way to a playoff win at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open for his 14th career major, leaving him four short of the standard set by Jack Nicklaus.

Woods gets defensive when asked about his confidence. All he can do is point to his four PGA Tour wins this year, his No. 1 ranking fully restored, the way his named is bandied about as a favorite at every Grand Slam event.

But there are no answers for why he can win just about anywhere except in the majors.

"I think it's just a shot here and there," he said. "It's making a key up-and-down here, or getting a good bounce, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there."

One thing that no longer concerns him, at least going into the opening round Thursday, is his health.

Woods revealed during the U.S. Open that he had a left elbow injury that was aggravated by hitting out of the thick rough at Merion. Doctors told him it was an elbow strain and recommended rest, forcing him to miss his title defense at Congressional and likely another start at The Greenbrier.

He has not competed since the U.S. Open, and while he says "everything is good to go," he has played only nine holes each day.

"It's one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it," he said.

Woods said it's important for his elbow to be healed because of reports the Muirfield rough would be thick. Those reports weren't exaggerated.

Since returning from the crisis in his personal life that led to divorce, Woods has had five finishes in the top four at the 12 majors he has played. But he still hasn't seriously contended. The closest he has been to the winning score was three shots, at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

McDowell won that U.S. Open. Adam Scott won the Masters this year. Justin Rose won the U.S. Open.

"You could never get 18 players win 20 majors when there's a guy winning 14 majors in 12 years," Geoff Ogilvy said, referring to Woods.

And now?

"There are more players who think they can win," Ogilvy said. "And every time one of those players wins one, it gives confidence to others that they can."

Tournament facts

Where: Gullane, Scotland.
Schedule: Thursday-Sunday.
Course: Muirfield Golf Club (7,192 yards, par 71).
Purse: 5.25 million pounds ($7.95 million). Winner's share: 945,000 pounds ($1.43 million).
Television: ESPN (Thursday-Friday, 1 a.m.-3 p.m., 4-7 p.m.; Saturday, 4-11:30 a.m.; Sunday, 3-10:30 a.m.) and ABC (Saturday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m.).
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Ernie Els