Tiger Woods' peers share their reviews
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Perhaps next year he will regret it. Maybe Steve Stricker watches Tiger Woods start holing putts from Abu Dhabi to Augusta to Royal Lytham and points in between and wonders if he should have kept quiet.
Stricker chuckled at the notion, that his putting tips proffered to Woods in recent weeks were simply a friend passing along some advice, a common occurrence in golf.
And then Stricker wondered how much of what he said Woods is even using.
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"He's made plenty of putts on his own over the years,'' Stricker said.
Stricker did give Woods advice in relation to ball position before the final day of the Presidents Cup, and again this week about the grip, which Woods experimented with on his way to victory at the Chevron World Challenge.
It wasn't the entire reason he won, and yet it is interesting to note that Woods made clutch birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes at Sherwood Country Club to win for the first time in more than two years. His final-round 69 -- and final-hole birdie -- edged Zach Johnson by a stroke.
"Last year I played with him here the first round and thought, Wow, this guy is back,'' Stricker said. "But you could tell this time around he's even got more confidence and more game and he feels confidence in the direction he is headed in.''
Woods' game has been trending in a positive direction for the past month after he was able to put in the practice time following a summer of inactivity due to injury.
He finished third at the Australian Open, showed a lot of positive signs despite a losing record at the Presidents Cup, then was in or around the lead all weekend at the Chevron, a limited-field event he has now won five times.
It was Woods' first victory since the 2009 Australian Masters, a period that saw his career derailed by a personal scandal, swing changes and injury.
"If you've reached a certain level, and the form dips and the confidence goes and whatever else is happening in your life that is preventing you from playing the kind of golf you're capable of once you get those things figured out, you get back to working on the same old stuff, it comes back, it's just a case of hard work,'' said Paul Casey, who finished third, four shots back of Woods.
"So I don't doubt him whatsoever. I have no idea what's going through his brain. But I don't question he'll get back to the level of golf we saw before. Will he win the same number of events? I don't know. But will he get back to shooting the same sort of numbers? Yeah, I think he can. But you've got to figure everything out, put the work in. And he may be even better.''
And it makes you wonder what might have been had Woods not been injured.
He shot 31 on the front nine at Augusta National to tie for the final round lead before finishing tied for fourth. But he injured his knee and Achilles during the third round, injuries that proved to be far more serious than first believed.
Woods played just nine holes at the Players Championship and did not play competitively again until the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.
"I played with him for the first time at Bay Hill and thought he was really coming along and starting to get close,'' said long-hitting Gary Woodland, who tied for 10th at the Chevron. "He played well at Augusta and, of course, he tweaked his knee there. I think without that injury, we'd see what we're seeing now a couple of months ago.
"I could tell then that he was starting to hit it where he wanted to. He wasn't missing it the other direction. And when he controls his golf ball like that, he's going to be pretty good.''
Stricker said that despite all the negativity that surrounded Woods since his last win, he expected positive results at some point.
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"I figured someday he'd let all this stuff get past and rededicate himself. He's got a tremendous work ethic, and that's what you need to get off the bottom. We all know he works extremely hard. So I didn't doubt that because I know he works at it.''
"I don't think we're going to see another 2011,'' Jim Furyk said of Woods' season that saw him play just nine times on the PGA Tour, with the Masters the only time he contended. "If he steadily progresses, gets some confidence, he's going to be one of the best players in the game again.''
Although the Chevron tournament is not an official victory, the event has been offering world ranking points for three years, and Woods took advantage, jumping a whopping 31 spots to No. 21 in the world.
That should put to rest any doubts about him making the field at the WGC-Accenture Match Play or WGC-Cadillac Invitational in 2012, both of which could have been in doubt had his ranking continued to plummet.
He is not scheduled to play again until late January at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour.
"We need him playing well,'' Stricker said. "I don't know if he'll ever be able to get to where he was before because he was so dominant. But I'm sure he'll have good stretches again and play tremendous golf again. What he did before was inhuman-like at times.
"But I think we need him to play well and win tournaments and create buzz.''
Woods certainly accomplished that on Sunday.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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