Revitalized Woods back in the hunt for trophy in Australia

Revitalized Woods back in the hunt for trophy in Australia

SYDNEY - Reuters
Revitalized Woods back in the hunt for trophy in Australia

Tiger Woods of the US waves flies away at the second tee of a Pro-Am event ahead of the Australian Open. REUTERS photo

Tiger Woods is convinced he is finally in position to begin his rise to the top of world golf again but he will have to beat a world class field at the Australian Open this week if he is to end his two-year title drought.

With the Presidents Cup following next week in Melbourne, the 107-year-old tournament has attracted one of its strongest fields, including eight of the world’s top 20, to compete for the modest $1.5 million purse at the Lakes Golf Course.

Fourteen-times major winner Woods is languishing at number 58 in the world after two years of personal problems and injuries but the American remains the major draw card on his return to the country where he registered his last victory at the 2009 Australian Masters.

The 35-year-old arrived in Australia amid a media frenzy caused by a racist remark made by his former caddie Steve Williams and, having met and received an apology from the New Zealander on Tuesday, hopes a line has been drawn under the incident.

That will leave the former world number one clear to continue plotting the course he hopes will take him back to the top of the game he dominated for so long.

Finally fully recovered from the Achilles and knee injuries that have restricted both his ability to practice and his tournament time, Woods said he “absolutely” believed he could dominate golf again -- even if it might take some time.

“If you’re Usain Bolt you don’t just go out and run in world record time, it takes time, it takes training,” he said, referring to the Jamaican Olympic sprint champion.

“Finally I’m able to do (that) and that’s what’s so exciting about these tournaments coming up as well as going into next year, I finally feel like I’m able to do that.

“I’m here to try to get a W, just like I am at every event,” he added. “But I have some work to do before that happens. I’ll take a look at the golf course, figure it out, figure out the game plan and then execute my game plan.”

Future Number One?

Woods will come up against one of the local favorites for the first time in Thursday’s opening round, having been grouped with two Australians -- world number seven Jason Day and twice former champion Robert Allenby.

Day, who finished runner up at the U.S. Masters and U.S. Open this year and has been tipped as a future number one by Australian great Greg Norman, said winning his home open was “very important.”

“I have watched it ever since I was a kid,” the 23-year-old said. “I have always wanted to win it. I want to win majors and PGA Tour events but I obviously want to put my name on the Australian Open trophy.

“That has been a very big goal for me, ever since I was a little kid.”

Adam Scott (world number eight) won the title in 2009 and is another strong Australian contender, while the American charge is expected to come from big-hitting Dustin Johnson (five), Matt Kuchar (nine), Nick Watney (12) and Bubba Watson (17).

Although the Americans lack the special motivation to win on home soil, there is a cache to claiming a title that the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson and Gary Player have held in the past.

“Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have said to be a truly great player you’ve got to travel the world and win everywhere,” said Watney.

“It would definitely be a huge feather in my cap to play well here. I have come a long way so I would like to make it worthwhile.”

There will, however, be something of a culture shock for some of the Americans who rarely stray from the U.S. PGA circuit to play abroad.

“You are learning different grasses, different winds, you learn that the air is a little bit thicker in the wind here,” said Watson. “When the ball is into the wind it goes a lot shorter. It is totally different to what we are used to. It is a learning experience.

“We want to learn. We want to go to different places and learn golf courses and see how our game travels. It is fun unless you play really bad.”