GAINESVILLE, United States: A frustrated Tiger Woods never imagined it would take so long to regain top form after back surgery and swing changes, but he will stick with his comeback plan.
“Is it frustrating to not win golf tournaments? Yeah. But I know how close it feels. I just need a couple shots here and there to turn the tide,” Woods said on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Woods serves as host for this week’s US PGA National at the par-71 Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, a 7,385-yard layout last used by top stars for the 2005 Presidents Cup.
Woods, a 14-time major champion whose last major title came at the 2008 US Open, has fallen to 266th in the world rankings as he struggles to rebuild his game. He has not won a title since he world No.1 at Firestone in 2013, a two-year drought with a “perfect storm” of back surgery and swing change struggles setting him back.
“I didn’t think it would take this long, but I thought I would have my short game, which I didn’t at the beginning of the year,” Woods said. “Things are starting to come together. I’m sticking with the process and trying to make progress every day.
“Is it fun going through this? No, it’s hard. I’m not scoring. Rounds that should be 70s are turning into 74s if not worse.”
Woods, 39, has missed the cut in three of his eight starts this year, including the US and British Opens, with his best result a share of 17th at the Masters.
He shot 82 at Phoenix and 85 at the Memorial, his worst pro rounds, and shared 32nd at the Greenbrier only to finish a woeful 147th of 156 over the first 36 holes in the British Open at St. Andrews, where he twice won the Claret Jug.
Woods took a week off in the Bahamas without touching a club, snorkeling and fishing with his children while Jordan Spieth narrowly saw his bid for a third major title of the year spoiled by Zach Johnson.
Spieth impresses Tiger
“For him to play St. Andrews for the first time, see it under different winds and play it that well, it was very impressive,” Woods said of Spieth. “Unbelievable chance to win the golf tournament. He was only a couple putts off.”
Spieth is playing like Woods once did and as Woods hopes he might again in two weeks in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
“Do I want to be in that position again? Absolutely,” Woods said. “I’ve had chances to make those runs. I just haven’t done it. It’s a matter of making a big putt here or there.”
Woods, who says he has no pain in his swing and has not consulted a sports psychologist about his poor play, marvels at the top young players he sees at PGA events now.
“You see all these new, fresh faces and you look down the range and don’t recognize anybody,” Woods said. “I go to the (50-and-over) Champions Tour and I know every guy. It’s the nature of the game. Our careers are so long now. The guys I practiced against are all gone.”
Woods, whose 79 career titles are only three off Sam Snead’s all-time PGA record, will play alongside fellow Americans Bill Haas and Nick Watney in the first two rounds. Defending champion Justin Rose is in the group behind him starting Thursday afternoon alongside Sweden’s David Lingmerth and American Jimmy Walker.