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Woods has put in the work

By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press / October 6, 2011

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SAN MARTIN, Calif. - When last seen at a golf tournament, Tiger Woods was leaving early from the PGA Championship after missing the cut. He didn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, giving him a long break he wasn’t expecting.

If there was an upside that day in Atlanta, Woods figured he would have “nothing to do but work on my game.’’

And that’s what he did.

He showed up yesterday at CordeValle for the Open knowing that whatever happens over the next two or four days, it won’t be from a lack of practice.

Woods said he has routinely played 36 holes - sometimes 45 - a day at his new home in South Florida, and he noticed his scores getting lower and lower until he set the course record last week at The Medalist with a 62. Robert Allenby recalls seeing Woods at The Bear’s Club one day in the morning and into the late afternoon.

“The major overhauls are done,’’ Woods said. “I’ve done all that work. Now, it’s just fine tuning.’’

There was one occasion during his pro-am round when he asked swing coach Sean Foley to videotape his swing. On another shot, he couldn’t figure out why the flight of his tee shot started out as a cut and then hooked back to the left.

Otherwise, Woods feels as though he’s back to stepping up and hitting it.

“I don’t need to worry about whether I have the club here or here or here or here or here,’’ he said. “I’ve done all that legwork, and now it’s time to play. And that’s where I needed to get to, which I hadn’t been able to because I wasn’t healthy enough to get there. And that part was frustrating, because I know what I can do in the game, and I just needed the time to practice.

“And that’s why I’m so excited about being here and playing.’’

It’s a transition he might not ever have expected, going from a major championship to a Fall Series event, with a seven-week break in between. The Fall Series was designed to give most players a chance to secure their PGA Tour cards for next year, and the field is loaded with such players.

There are only six players from the top 50 on the money list, and 26 from the top 100. Rory Sabbatini at No. 27 is the highest-ranked player from the PGA Tour money list.

And then there is Woods, who is No. 118 after having entered only eight PGA Tour events and finishing five of them.

He no longer is among the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1996, having slipped to No. 51 this week. Yet he is such a powerful draw that ticket sales are five times ahead of last year. The Open is close to selling out, unusual for a Fall Series event, and even some tournaments in the regular part of the season.

Woods’s year looked much more promising in April when he tied for fourth at the Masters, after briefly being in a tie for the lead when he made the turn at Augusta National on Sunday. But he aggravated injuries in his left leg, then returned too early at The Players Championship. He withdrew after nine holes and didn’t return again for three months at the Bridgestone Invitational.

Woods also has his first major endorsement since his downfall two years ago, announcing a deal yesterday with Rolex to be one of its ambassadors.

Woods had lost five major endorsements in the two years since he acknowledged marital infidelity and was eventually divorced.