Commentary

Will Tiger rise up at last Down Under?

Updated: November 9, 2011, 4:38 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SYDNEY -- Perhaps it was the Australian accent, the words sounding softer, certainly not confrontational. The questioner, although you could certainly argue the premise, asked Tiger Woods about what appeared to be a tamed temper on the golf course.

"You seem to be controlling your fury, your anger far better than previously. Is that a conscious thing you're doing?''

Woods went the self-deprecating route.

"Maybe it's just I'm so used to hitting so many bad shots,'' he said. "I think I'd be a hell of an 18-handicapper.''

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty ImagesTiger Woods tees off in Australia having played plenty of golf outside of tournaments lately.
It could be that Woods is finally finding confidence, that his game is coming around, that he feels good about all the work he has put in since returning from various injuries that derailed this season, because rarely does Woods poke fun at himself in such a manner.

Of course, Woods was only acknowledging what we've all seen: that his golf ball has not often traveled to the intended place for much of this year.

It is time that Woods put up the numbers.

Although the Australian Open will be just his 11th worldwide start of the year, at some point -- preferably sooner rather than later -- Woods needs to produce. He's been playing and practicing, he says, injury-free for more than three months. He claims to be back to the training methods he prefers. There are numerous 36-hole days at his new course, The Medalist, near his South Florida home.

It has become fashionable to take shots at Woods these days. Former major champions Nick Faldo and Greg Norman have done it recently, Norman going so far as to say he would not have chosen Woods for next week's U.S. Presidents Cup team.

Two winless years and countless wayward shots have made him an easy mark.

"That's not a concern of mine,'' Woods said. "My concern is winning golf tournaments, and being prepared to win, which is something I haven't been able to do for a while. I haven't been able to practice.

"Now that I'm able to do that, now physically I feel ready to go and that takes time. Winning golf tournaments and being consistent. … I've been lucky enough to have done it for a decade, so there's nothing wrong with doing it again.''

Watching Woods in the pro-am Wednesday for several holes at The Lakes Golf Club was yet another indication that things look relatively good when it doesn't count. There were plenty of nice shots, the game seemingly looking easy. Of course, that is not how golf works.

Woods himself has lamented his inability to take his game from the driving range to practice rounds and then to the course in competition. He admits that his putting has been streaky, nowhere near as clutch as when he was atop the world rankings for all but a handful of weeks over more than a decade.

IBF He is still the best and he still hits it the best, whether you like his swing or not.

-- Ian Baker-Finch, on Tiger Woods

"He is still the best and he still hits it the best, whether you like his swing or not,'' said Australian Ian Baker-Finch, who watched Woods play during a practice round on Tuesday. "The freakish ability that he has is still there, and it is freakish ability. He's the best ever. He has just got to let it out.''

And that has been the enormous difficulty as Woods has dealt with the upheaval in his personal life, a change in swing coaches, working on a new swing, and injury.

But golf is a bottom-line sport and in 22 worldwide events since returning from his self-imposed break at the 2010 Masters, Woods has just four top-10 finishes -- three of them at major championships.

It is also important to remember that Woods has played just three tournaments since the Masters, a total of 10 competitive rounds of golf. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship and then tied for 30th last month at the Frys.com Open.

You almost have to throw out the WGC-Bridgestone and PGA because he hastily returned to those tournaments, healthy but with little prep. That is no longer an excuse. There's been no lack of golf in recent months, only lack of golf tournaments -- by his choice.

After the Frys.com tournament, Woods could have played Disney near his former home in Orlando, a tournament he won twice. But he skipped that event, then headed to this part of the world last week where he was in Asia for corporate events before heading to Perth and Melbourne in Australia, arriving in Sydney on Monday night.

The Australian Open begins a stretch of three tournaments in four weeks, including next week's Presidents Cup and then the Chevron World Challenge, an unofficial event that nonetheless offers world ranking points that he badly needs.

Woods has dropped to 58th in the world -- a spot behind Mark Wilson, one ahead of Vijay Singh.

"You can lose the form but you never lose that talent,'' said Adam Scott, who is ranked eighth in the world. "He was gifted with that. Once he gets back into those positions with his game, he'll find it not too hard to have that edge again. You can't write the guy off. Every time we have, he has proved us wrong in the past.

"Once he starts gaining some momentum … that's the thing he hasn't had over the past two years.''

The lack of golf has rendered that difficult, which makes this next month a good gauge for Woods. He's got two stroke-play events plus a highly-pressured team event at the Presidents Cup -- where many observers feel he doesn't belong -- to show that things are turning around.

After a dismal, frustrating season, it has now simply about the numbers on the scorecard.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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