By Tony Jimenez

ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - Tiger Woods' love affair with St Andrews goes back 20 years and the former world number one cannot wait for romance to blossom again at the 144th British Open that starts on Thursday.

The 39-year-old American made his first appearance in golf's oldest major in the 1995 edition held at the Old Course and went on to win the prized Claret Jug when the championship returned to the iconic links in 2000 and 2005.

Woods is expecting the course to present a different kind of challenge this week but is licking his lips at the prospect nonetheless.

"I'm very excited to be back here at the Home of Golf," he told reporters on Tuesday. "I've always loved this course from the first time I played it... there's just something special about it.

"It's playing a little bit differently to previous Opens

I've played in. It's a little bit softer and it's going to get even softer with the (rain) forecast for Friday.

Woods, who has had a torrid run of form but showed flashes of his old magic at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia two weeks ago, enjoys the creative element that comes into play at the Old Course.

"You have to be able to hit all different type of shots," he said. "The first thing I ever heard about St Andrews is that all you do is hit it as hard as you can and aim left.

"That's basically not how you play the golf course. You

need to have the right angles.

"Over the years of learning how to play the course under different type of wind conditions, it changes greatly and it's based on angles. You have to put the ball on certain sides of the fairways in order to get the ball close," Woods explained.

"That type of thinking and the strategy that goes into that is something I've always loved."

Woods has been stuck on 14 major victories since winning the 2008 U.S. Open but said he still had designs on overhauling Jack Nicklaus' record total of 18.

"I ended up playing well at the Greenbrier and hit the ball the best I've hit it in probably two years on the Sunday," he added.

"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. I love playing, I love competing and I love playing these

events."

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)