Even winless year can be success for a healthy Tiger

By Jim Slater

ATLANTA, August  2011 (AFP) – Tiger Woods says that even a winless year might still be considered a successful one because he has regained his fitness after left leg injuries that limited his play the past four months.

Former World No. 1 Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, returns to major competition on Thursday at the 93rd PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Woods, who has not won any event since the Australian Masters in November of 2009, missed the US and British Opens with knee and Achilles tendon injuries suffered at the Masters last April and aggravated at the Players event in May.

“In order to win I had to be healthy,” Woods said. “Now I can go. Now I can do the work. I can do the practice sessions and I think that that’s the only way that my game will get to where I need to get to.”

Woods has won nothing since the eruption of his infamous sex scandal 21 months ago but says he still sees a victory this week a realistic possibility despite returning only last week at a World Golf Championships event.

“After the Masters I just wasn’t feeling well and it has been frustrating,” Woods said. “Now that I’m healthy, it’s so much easier to be more patient. I have way more energy because I’m not trying to block out pain.

“It’s nice to have a kind of bounce in my step again.”

Woods, now ranked 30th, was 15 strokes behind winner Adam Scott of Australia, whose new caddie is the bagman Woods fired last month, Steve Williams, a New Zealander who worked with Woods on 13 of his 14 major triumphs.

“The goal is to win every week, but the first thing is I had to get healthy in order to get back to that level,” Woods said. “I hadn’t been able to practice, hadn’t been able to work on my game. I’ve been sidelined for a long time. It all starts with being healthy first. Now I can start playing again.”

The fallout from the sex scandal that led to his divorce from Elin Nordegren and the destruction of his iconic pitchman image continued Wednesday as Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer announced an end to a 10-year Woods endorsement deal.

Tag Heuer chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin says the firm is “confident that Tiger will eventually regain full trust with the public” and Woods has “huge talent and mental strength (that) will help him overcome his difficulties.”

Despite the scandal and his lack of success, Woods remains a huge draw.

“He’s still the biggest attraction in the game of golf,” US Open winner Rory McIlroy said. “I don’t think that has changed at all.

“The only thing that has changed is that he just isn’t winning as much as he did back then. But that’s not to say that he won’t do it again.”

Woods returns ahead of upcoming US PGA Tour television contract negotiations that figure to fetch a higher price with McIlroy saying he plans to play more US events next year and a healthy Woods in the picture for 2012 and beyond.

“I think the tour is doing great. It’s very healthy,” Woods said. “I know that Tim (Finchem, PGA Tour commissioner) is in the midst of starting his negotiations, so with all this excitement of young players coming up it’s going to be a very good contract for us.”

Woods says he still expects to pass Nicklaus for the major win mark and said he has benchmarks for where he hopes to be at certain ages.

“At 38, that’s three years, 15 (majors),” he said. “If I win all 15, I’ll be looking all right. I would be in good shape.” ■


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