Players confident rusty Woods will rediscover his mettle

Tiger Woods of the United States hits his tee shot on the second hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany, The Bahamas on Dec 4, 2016, in Nassau, Bahamas.
Tiger Woods of the United States hits his tee shot on the second hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany, The Bahamas on Dec 4, 2016, in Nassau, Bahamas. PHOTO: AFP

Tiger Woods may have missed 15 months of golf but time is exactly what the former world No. 1 needs when he starts his 21st season as a professional this month.

The 41-year-old American finished 15th at last month's 18-man invitational Hero World Challenge, his first event since undergoing back surgery in September 2015.

He opens his season at the Jan 26-29 Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, followed by the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic a week later.

Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines and twice at the Emirates Golf Club and it was important that he returns to familiar surroundings, Ernie Els said yesterday.

"Mentally, Tiger is as strong as anybody and he needs to find the momentum in his favourite events," added the former world No. 1.

"If he gets the momentum I think he can really start reliving his old days."

In his heyday, Woods was peerless on the fairways. In the 13 seasons since 1997, he played in 231 PGA Tour events and won 69 times, including his 14 Majors.

But the emergence of a new generation, led by top-ranked Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jason Spieth, has changed the landscape.

There is no longer a single dominant player, noted Adam Scott, who replaced Woods as No. 1 for 11 weeks in 2014.

"There are probably 10 guys that I quickly think of, that if they're playing on that week you're going to have to play at your best to contend...

"The standard is very, very high, I think higher than I've ever seen."

The world No. 7 is one of only four men over the age of 30 in the top 10 standings, but Els noted that age is no barrier to success, especially for someone with Woods' talent.

The South African was 42 when he won the 2012 British Open, and said: "I am in my late 40s and he is just getting into them. There have been a few cases where we have won Majors in our 40s; it doesn't happen that often but it does happen.

"If players like myself, Darren Clarke and Mark O'Meara can win (Majors) in our 40s, surely Tiger thinks he can do it too."

Support for Woods was evident around the Sentosa Golf Club, with many players confident he would add to his 79 PGA Tour victories.

Veteran Jeev Milkha Singh, who won the 2008 Singapore Open, is a big fan of Woods. He said: "I'm a firm believer you cannot keep a good player down for too long. Just give Tiger a bit of time and he'll be back to his best."

Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Players confident rusty Woods will rediscover his mettle'. Print Edition | Subscribe