Tiger's winless run closes in on two-year mark
With the two-year anniversary of his last tournament win fast approaching, Tiger Woods is preparing for next month's Australian Open amid growing doubts over whether he can ever regain his former dominance.
His World ranking has slipped to a mind-boggling 55th and golfing greats Nick Faldo and Greg Norman have both said that Woods is incapable of adding further major titles to his career haul of 14.
Woods himself bristles at such notions and, as the greatest player of his generation and arguably of all time, he can point to previous achievements as a guide to the likely way forward.
"I've heard that before," a steely-eyed Woods said earlier this month of the comments made by Faldo and Norman. "It's not the first time I've heard that. And I've kept on winning them, too."
However, time is beginning to run out for the former World No.1, who will celebrate his 36th birthday in December and has already undergone four surgeries on his left knee.
Woods continues to struggle on and off the field
Ever since Woods's world was seismically shifted by lurid details of his marital infidelities at the end of 2009, he has struggled on and off the course.
His marriage disintegrated, he battled injuries to his left knee ligaments and Achilles tendon earlier this year and has been working through the fourth swing change of his career.
A combination of injuries and poor form severely curtailed his 2011 PGA Tour campaign and he ended up a lowly 128th in the money list with earnings of $660,238 from just nine starts.
After failing to qualify for the lucrative FedExCup playoffs, Woods was urged by US Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples to try and play himself into form ahead of the November 17-20 tournament in Melbourne.
Consequently, Woods added the Frys.com Open in California to his schedule, his first appearance in one of the PGA Tour's Fall Series events which generally attract only the journeymen on the circuit and players striving to retain their cards.
Woods finished in a tie for 30th at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin but he was greatly encouraged after shooting three-under-par 68s in his last three rounds.
The game's coming, says Woods
"I got better every day," the 71-times PGA Tour winner. "Unfortunately, there were a couple of times where I kind of didn't get the momentum going when I had a couple of chances to make putts or I hit a bad shot.
"I felt very comfortable, and I just need to keep staying the course. The game's coming."
Woods played with his good friend Arjun Atwal in the final round at CordeValle and the Indian marvelled at the American's form, especially with the driver, as he birdied four of the first six holes.
"He is very close, very close to his best," Atwal said. "It's just a matter of Tiger playing a few more competitive rounds and everything else will be sorted out.
"His driving was so much better than it was when he was winning all those tournaments with Hank," Atwal added, referring to Woods's former swing coach Hank Haney.
"Even his (fairway) misses were only just off line. Tiger's still flying the ball 310 (yards) off the tee but his shots aren't off the map any more. And that old sound on impact is back."
Atwal and Woods are neighbours in Windermere, Florida, where they regularly play practice rounds together.
Woods gearing up for another Australian Open title
Injuries are no longer a problem for Woods, who says he has regained strength and the "explosiveness" back in his left leg since being sidelined for three months earlier this year.
His other main problem, lack of competition, is slowly being corrected and his next event will be the November 10-13 Australian Open before he represents his country the following week at the Presidents Cup.
Woods has not triumphed anywhere since November 15 2009 when he clinched the Australian Masters.
If he continues the encouraging progress he made at CordeValle, he could complete a tortuous journey somewhat fittingly on Australian soil by ending a two-year wait to get back into the winner's circle.