Golf

Woods still has Major ambition

Former world No. 1 says he wouldn't have returned if he didn't think he could add to his 14-Major haul

Tiger Woods sees daily progress in his return from a 16-month back injury layoff and hinted yesterday morning (Singapore time) that he is still chasing the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

Woods, a 14-time Major champion, sizzled early for the third consecutive round but fizzled late in firing a two-under-par 70 at his comeback event - the Hero World Challenge hosted by his charity foundation.

"I'm just not quite there, but it's coming. The great thing is I'm building and, each day, I've gotten a little bit stronger," said Woods, who admitted that he was tiring late on in his round.

"I'm definitely not as fresh as I would like to be. No matter how much you work out, it's very different than being in playing shape. There are all these different things you can't simulate at home."

Woods, who has not won a Major since the 2008 US Open, was asked after his round about trying to catch Nicklaus even though no player has won four Majors after turning 41.

"I wouldn't be here doing this if I didn't feel like I could play at the highest level," Woods, who turns 41 later this month, said.

"I have too much pride."

Only four players have won multiple Majors after turning 41 - Old Tom Morris with three 1860s British Opens and Harry Vardon, Julius Boros and Woods' pal Mark O'Meara with two each. Woods stood on eight-under 208, 11 strokes behind leader Hideki Matsuyama of Japan after 54 holes at the 18-man invitational.

"For three straight days, I've gotten off to great starts. For two of those days, I haven't been able to keep it going," Woods said. "I would like to get another solid round."

Woods birdied four of the first five holes, but it was no day at the beach for the former world No. 1, who spent considerable time in Bahamas sand waste areas after missing the last five fairways at Albany Golf Club, a 7,302-yard Ernie Els-designed layout.

"Probably couldn't get off to a better start than I did," Woods said. "Generally when I come back from layoffs, that's the most concerning part of the game, but I've been able to build a significant amount of positive shots and go under par early."

Woods took a bogey at the par-five sixth, answered with birdies at seven and the par-five 11th, but stumbled with bogeys at 13 and 14. A 30-foot birdie putt at the fairway-less par-three 17th provided a boost, but he found sand and water at 18 for a closing double-bogey.

"I didn't hit the ball that poorly today, but hit bad putts in the middle part of the round," Woods said.

Woods said he has no expectations for the week because "I didn't know what I was going to feel like after each round", but added: "I've finally been able to switch into a competitive mode again."

World No. 6 Matsuyama, who has won three of his last four starts worldwide, holed out from the fairway to eagle the par-four seventh on his way to a 19-under total of 197 for a commanding seven-shot lead.

Long-hitting American Dustin Johnson (72) and British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden (66) were tied for second with Americans Brandt Snedeker (69) and Matt Kuchar (71) a further stroke back at 11 under. - AFP

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