Struggling Woods adamant he can be a force again

Tiger Woods believes he can return to his peerless best as he wrestles with his game in a winless year ahead of the defence of his Australian Masters title.

The Masters, getting unde rway at Melbourne’s Victoria course on Thursday, represents the 14-time major winner’s penultimate opportunity to break his tournament drought this year.

Woods, 34, is returning to Melbourne where he last won before a spectacular fall from grace in the wake of a sex scandal that engulfed his personal and professional life.

Apart from the breakup of his marriage, the upheaval also cost Woods his world number one ranking—which went to Englishman Lee Westwood last week—after a 281-week tenure at the top.

But the competitive fire stills burns bright within Woods and although he is restructuring his game with his fourth swing change, he is adamant he can become a force on the course again.

“Absolutely. It’s a work in progress. Sometimes it takes longer than others,” Woods told his tournament-eve press conference on Wednesday.

“Once I start feeling comfortable with what I’m doing—I know I can still play this game—it’s just a matter of being consistent enough and on a daily basis.”

Woods to relearn how to win
Woods, who is up against leading Australians Robert Allenby and Geoff Ogilvy, Colombia’s Camilo Villegas and Spain’s Sergio Garcia here this week, said to return to his exalted level he had to learn to win again.

“I haven’t won anything this year so it’s understandable why I’m not number one any more,” he said.
I have to win golf tournaments to get there. That’s what has happened in the past and that’s what I need to do in the future if I’m to get there again,” he said.

“I think I’ve got a pretty good chance of winning events if I play the way I know I can play. I have been through some pretty big swing changes of late.”

Woods is working with golfing instructor Sean Foley after splitting with his longtime swing guru Hank Haney.

“I felt I needed to get better. I felt the way I was playing most of this year was not very good,” he said. The best finish was fourth place and that’s not as well as I have played in the past and I needed to make a change. It also makes it a lot less stressful on my knee, which has taken a pounding over the years and I think four operations is enough.”

‘I would love to win here’
Woods, who is an ardent fan of Melbourne’s sandbelt courses, said it was a superb place to bounce back after his year of travails.

“I would love to win here. It’s a great golf course. It’s another great field this year,” he said.

“These are some of the greatest par-threes I have played, whether it’s Huntingdale, Kingston Heath, Royal Melbourne or here, these are some phenomenal par-threes and they’re not overly long. The key is getting the ball in play so you can leave the ball below the hole and to be able to spin the golf ball you have to put it in the right spot on the fairway.”

Woods, who had his first look at the par-71 6 297m Victoria layout in Wednesday’s pro-am event, said he was relying on his longtime caddy Steve Williams to prepare for the course.

“I think Stevie hasn’t caddied here in 30 years, since 1980 when he was down here with the Shark [Greg Norman],” he said.

“He was pleasantly surprised by how many holes he remembered. Some of the holes he remembers Greg doing certain things, so it was pretty cool.”

Storm should be calm now
Woods said he doesn’t expect any heckling from the Australian gallery this week, despite the salacious headlines he has generated over the past year.

Fans have been told that if they barrack Woods they would be ejected from the course.

“I’ve been grateful. The fans have been just phenomenal over the past year at every event I’ve played,” he said.

“Every time I’ve come down here the fans have been incredible. It’s really fun to play in that type of atmosphere and I don’t expect anything different at all.”—Sapa-AFP