Tiger Woods, describing himself as ”probably” his strongest ever, vowed on Wednesday to go all out in his season-ending tournament this week and keep up the momentum into next year.
The world number one, fresh from his runner-up finish at last week’s HSBC Champions in Shanghai, is aiming for a record-tying third straight victory at the $1,7-million Dunlop Phoenix tournament, the richest event on the Japanese Tour.
”It’ll be a very, very fair but difficult test this week,” the 30-year-old American said. ”I’m really looking forward to teeing up tomorrow [Thursday] and see if I can win this tournament again.”
The 12-time Major winner has already won nine titles, including the British Open and US PGA Championship, in a year tinged with sadness over the death of his father Earl from cancer in May.
Dunlop will mark his last official tournament of 2006, which has seen Woods in arguably his best form since he held all four Majors in 2000 and 2001.
Asked if he considers himself the ”strongest ever Tiger Woods,” he replied after a pause: ”Overall game, probably.”
Woods tried to improve on his swing early in the season, readjusting the back swing, impact and follow-through. He has also worked on the swing during a five-week break leading to HSBC.
”I’m really looking forward to seeing these improvements on the things that I’ve worked on, obviously, through the fall on this circuit, winning here, and into early next year,” he said.
But Woods sees no end to his fine-tuning efforts. ”It’s a never-ending battle, while we all love it,” he said.
Dunlop Phoenix, which in its 32-year history has also been won by golfing greats such as Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros, has 84 players from 13 countries this year.
It includes Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who won the European Order of Merit title for the first time last month, and David Howell of England, third on the European Tour rankings. Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, who won Dunlop Phoenix in 1999 and 2003, also looks for a third win.
”It’s a great field, a lot of wonderful players out there …,” Woods said, adding that Dunlop has not seen such a deep field for a long time.
Harrington, who at HSBC finished six strokes off the winner, unheralded South Korean Yang Yong-Eun, said: ”It’s a bonus playing with Tiger in the field.”
”I’ll go four rounds, trying to play my game of golf, and when it comes to Sunday afternoon, see what the difference is,” the 35-year-old Harrington said. — Sapa-AFP