Tue, Dec 06, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Optimistic Tiger Woods returns to winner’s circle

AFP, THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA

Tiger Woods of the US watches his chip shot from the rough on the third hole in the final round of the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, California, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Two years after his own indiscretions sent his life into turmoil, Tiger Woods returned to the winner’s circle on Sunday — and found it felt just as it always had.

“It feels great,” said Woods, the 14-time major champion who had not won a tournament since 2009 until capturing the US$5 million Chevron World Challenge.

Woods had been on a win drought since revelations of his secret sex life in November 2009 left his reputation in tatters, put his marriage on the path to divorce and sent sponsors fleeing.

Amid the uproar, Woods’ game suffered and his struggles continued this year as he battled to cement swing changes despite injuries that limited his playing time.

“I know it has been a while, but also for some reason it feels like it hasn’t,” Woods said. “Because when I was coming down the stretch there, I felt so comfortable.”

“Was I nervous? Absolutely,” Woods added. “Always nervous in that position, but it’s a comfortable feeling and I enjoy being in that position. For some reason, it is kind of a comfort to be in there with a chance to win.”

Woods said he had felt it building as he took an early lead in the Australian Open last month. He finished third, but it was a solid prelude to a strong performance in the US’ Presidents Cup match-play triumph.

Woods, host of the 18-man Challenge event for the benefit of his charitable foundation, had led after 36 holes on Friday at Sherwood Country Club.

After he slipped one behind Zach Johnson in a wind-whipped third round, all eyes were on Woods to see if he could finally grab a victory in the style that once made him a cross-cultural superstar.

Woods duly delivered, with a birdie-birdie finish that erased a one-shot deficit and sealed the victory.

A year ago, Woods held a four-shot lead over Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell after the second and third rounds, but finished runner-up in a playoff.

“Last year, I was very one dimensional how I played,” Woods said. “I played only right to left. I did not have the swing of position where I could get a left-to-right ball at all.”

He and coach Sean Foley had been working to change that, but progress was slowed when Woods injured his left knee and Achilles tendon en route to a share of fourth place at the Masters last April.

He limped out of the Players Championship after nine holes in May, pulled out of the US Open and The Open, then missed the cut at the PGA Championship.

“Middle of the summer, when I’m on crutches, and on a couch and can’t do anything, that’s tough, very tough,” he said.

Also tough, Woods acknowledged, was constantly being asked about the drought.

“Started out: ‘You haven’t won in six months.’ Then a year, year and a half, two years. So it feels good to win a golf tournament, but that’s not the reason why I was playing. I’m not playing for you guys or anything like that. Just playing to get the ‘W.’ At the beginning of the week, that’s what I said and I was able to get it,” he said.

Now it remains for Woods get a ‘W’ in an official full-field event — perhaps even his first major since he won the 2008 US Open despite serious leg injuries.

“I feel pretty good going into next year,” Woods said, laughing as he added: “I think if I have a good year I should be on the ballot for Comeback Player of the Year, so I’m excited about that.”

Woods said this week he has yet to confirm his schedule for next year, but he has entered the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on Jan. 26.

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