A golfing year unlike any other for a troubled Tiger

September 24, 2010

GOLF/If any further proof was needed that this has been a golfing year unlike any other for Tiger Woods, simply reflect on the optimism he expressed after he failed to qualify for this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta.

For the first time in 15 years, the American world number one has ended a PGA Tour season without claiming a single victory but he says he has drawn great comfort from the form he has shown over the last month.

From anyone else’s lips, such comments would barely register on the ‘Wow’ scale but when phrased by the greatest player of his generation, and arguably of all time, it is a radically different story.

“I didn’t play well in the beginning of the year and I didn’t play well in the middle of the year. Now I’m starting to play well,” said Woods who is missing the elite Tour Championship for the third time in five years.

He was ruled out of the lucrative playoff event in 2008 while recuperating from knee surgery and skipped it in 2006 when he qualified but decided to end his season early.

“I’m headed in the right direction, which is good,” Woods added. “There are a lot of good signs, and I just need to keep working and stay the course.”

All this after he stunned the golfing world at the end of last year as details emerged of his serial philandering.

The 14-times major winner was absent from the PGA Tour for three months while trying to repair his marriage by undergoing therapy and he then largely struggled with his game after returning to the circuit for the U.S. Masters in April.

His long-anticipated divorce was finalised last month and Woods competed in his first tournament as a single man at The Barclays where he tied for 12th after opening with a sizzling 65.

Shares of 11th and 15th place in the next two playoff events were not good enough to seal his spot in the 30-man field at the Tour Championship and he has this week off before he joins the U.S. team for the Oct. 1-3 Ryder Cup in Wales.

With his private life unravelling, Woods did not practise his golf as much as he would have liked earlier this year and his problems were compounded when he decided to overhaul his swing.

He ended his six-year relationship with swing coach Hank Haney in May but began to notice improvements in his game after he began working with Canadian swing guru Sean Foley last month.

“The confidence is coming up … I’ve put a lot of hard work into it,” Woods said.

“It’s been nice to see the progress, to be able to go out there and hit the golf ball the way I know I can, know the fixes and understand the concept.”

For all that, though, he faces a long, hard road to travel if he is ever to regain the aura of invincibility he once enjoyed.

“I don’t know about entering a new era but there is a slightly different feel,” British world number seven Paul Casey said before last month’s PGA Championship.

“The feeling in the locker room is slightly different. Guys feel this tournament is wide open, and that’s not a feeling a lot of guys have had before.”

One man who was greatly encouraged by the recent improvement in Woods’s game was U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin who made him one of his wildcard picks for next week’s match with Europe.

“Obviously I was glad to see it,” Pavin told Reuters. “He is the number one player in the world and when Tiger’s on his game, he is the best. And he’s been the best for quite a long time.

“I was just waiting for him to start figuring it out and to play better. I want guys that are playing well and he’s starting to play well. I am obviously glad to have him.”

Woods, a wildcard pick for a Ryder Cup for the first time in his career. Yet another example of how this year has been unlike any other for the scandal-hit American.

PHOTO: Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the third hole during the final round of the BMW Championship golf tournament in Lemont, Illinois September 12, 2010. REUTERS/Frank Polich

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