Els: Age is no barrier for Woods
Els says age is not a barrier for former world No. 1, but he needs to find his groove fast
All the golf talk used to be about when, and not if, Tiger Woods would beat Jack Nicklaus' mark of 18 Major victories, or eclipse Sam Snead's record of 83 US PGA Tour wins.
The numbers that surround Woods these days are heavily inflated - an improvement from 898th to 657th in the world rankings would not usually make the news if not for who he is.
Following a 466-day lay-off after multiple back surgeries, the 41-year-old American - four away from Nicklaus and Snead's marks - finished 14 shots behind winner Hideki Matsuyama in his comeback event at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last month, mixing a second-round 65 with a final-round 76.
Woods will kick off his year at the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines, one of his favorite hunting grounds.
He won a record seven PGA Tour events at the La Jolla course as well as the 2008 US Open, the last of his Major wins.
He has also committed to the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic the following week.
Four-time Major winner Els, who won the 2012 British Open when he was 42, said that Woods needs to find his groove fast to build confidence.
Speaking at the SMBC Singapore Open press conference at Sentosa Golf Club yesterday ahead of today's tee-off, Els said: "Mentally, Tiger is as strong as anybody, but he needs to find the momentum in his favourite events like in Dubai and Farmers.
"If he gets the momentum, I think he can really start reliving his old days.
"I would love to see him play the way he played back in the 90s, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen.
"I'm in my late 40s and he's just getting into his 40s now.
"Fortunately, there have been a couple of cases where we have won Majors in our 40s.
"It doesn't happen that often, but it does happen."
Fellow Major winner and world No. 7 Adam Scott feels Woods can still win tournaments and make a successful return to golf's summit.
"It's exciting news for golf that Tiger comes back to play," said 2013 US Masters winner Scott. "You can never doubt that guy on the golf course."
What is undeniable is how the sport has taken off since Woods' emergence two decades ago, as prize money and media coverage increased exponentially on the back of his phenomenal success on the course.
Scott said: "He's everything to the game for the last 20 years, and, for me, I hope he can stay fit and healthy for the whole year, and get his game back the way he wants it to be and where we all like to see him playing.
"It's only good things for golf if that happens, and there's no reason why it shouldn't."
World No. 380 Els added: "We wouldn't be playing for the money we are playing for if it wasn't for him, so we have got to thank him for what he has done for the game.
"It can only be good if he plays well when he comes back because there's going to be more spectators and media around the world getting fired up about the game.
"There are some excellent players like Adam Scott, who are right in their prime and are playing great golf, so it would be great to see if Tiger can get into the mix at some of the big events and create even more buzz around the game."
Leadbetter: You'll never see the old Tiger again
In his prime, Tiger Woods could have overtaken Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18 golf Majors , but not anymore.
That is the view of famous golf coach David Leadbetter, who said the former world No. 1 will never surpass Nicklaus' tally.
Woods is making a comeback from a 15-month injury lay-off but, asked if the 41-year-old American can add to his 14 Majors and maybe overtake Nicklaus before he retires, Leadbetter said: "No. I don't think he can, but he'll probably prove us all wrong.
"Everybody says we will see the old Tiger, but you're never going to see the old Tiger again.
"It's a new Tiger now, whatever that may be."
Leadbetter, who rebuilt Nick Faldo's swing in the 1980s, enabling the Englishman to go on to win a British record haul of six Majors, added that Woods' best years are behind him.
"The level of golf he played from a period of 12 years from 1997 to 2009 was just unheard of," said Leadbetter.
"He basically won one out of every four tournaments he played, and was in contention most of the time.
"It was incredible, he set the bar so high and did things that were out of this world, but to actually get back to that level, I would say is nigh on impossible."
The abundance of talent in the modern game is just one of the factors that stands in Woods' way.
"Tiger at his peak was up against the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh," said Leadbetter.
"He was head and shoulders above everybody. If he played at his best, he won, simple as that.
"Nobody was going to beat him and he intimidated the other players.
"There's not that intimidation factor now, you've got so many great players around like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson.
"Back in the day, Tiger hit shots they couldn't hit, now they hit shots he can't hit.
"There's no reason to say he can't win tournaments. He might even win a Major but, to win four more or even five to beat Jack, he would need to have a better career from here on than say the likes of Lee Trevino who won five, or Seve Ballesteros.
"You have to remember he's 41, and he's an old 41. He's had three back surgeries and two knee surgeries from playing golf.
"He may prove us all wrong, after all he had one of the strongest minds in golf, but it will be extremely difficult." - WIRE SERVICES