Golf Golf

Woods keen to build on performance

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THOUSAND OAKS, California, December 1 – Tournament host Tiger Woods is “excited” to tee it up at the Chevron World Challenge on Thursday, where he will see if the solid form he showed in a fortnight in Australia holds up.

Woods was in contention en route to a third-place finish behind Greg Chalmers in the Australian Open and claimed the winning point in the United States’ 19-15 victory over the International team in the Presidents Cup matches.

Woods said he was especially encouraged by how his game handled the windy conditions that prevailed throughout his sojourn Down Under — proof, he said, that he has at last mastered the swing changes undertaken with coach Sean Foley.

“I’ve made tremendous strides,” said Woods, whose progress was also slowed by injuries this season.

“In the wind, you get exposed, and if you saw what I did in Australia, I hit the ball pretty good…

“I hit all shapes, all trajectories, and if you look at the rounds, I hit most of my shots pin-high. That’s an indication if the wind’s blowing that hard that I’m really controlling my trajectory.”

The 14-time major champion hasn’t won a tournament since the 2009 Australian Masters, leaving his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles stalled.

At number 52 in the world, Woods is the lowest-ranked player in the 18-man field for the $5 million event, which benefits his charitable foundation.

Although it’s not an official PGA Tour event, there are world rankings points up for grabs and four of the world’s top 10 — led by No. 6 Steve Stricker and No. 8 Jason Day of Australia — and eight of the world’s top 20 are here.

US PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley will play for the first time, but 2010 champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who beat Woods in a playoff last year to deny the former world number one a fifth victory in his own tournament, is in South Africa this week for the NedBank Challenge in preparation for the European Tour event in Dubai next week.

Woods was relishing the challenge of an elite field, even with the prospect of windy weather predicted for Thursday.

Veteran Jim Furyk said he’d seen one online forecast predicting wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour, which he said would make the par-72, 7,052-yard Sherwood Country Club course in rolling hills west of Los Angeles unplayable.

“We have to put the ball in the air to play this golf course, so in the wind, we’re going to have to be very careful and hitting very solid shots to control the ball when you put it up in the air in a strong wind,” said Furyk, who won the title in 2009.

That’s just the kind of challenge Woods says he’s ready for, a contrast to this time last year when he still wasn’t fully comfortable with his swing.

“Now I feel very comfortable maneuvering the ball both ways,” he said. “I’m excited about playing that wind tomorrow… In these canyons it can do anything … if the wind is the way it’s projected, it’ll be tough tomorrow.”

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