Steve Williams is backing Tiger Woods – and his new swing.
In Taranaki for the opening of the Steve Williams Mixed Age Group classic, Woods' caddie of 11 years said he believed the former world No1 could get back to playing the way he used to.
"He's working on a new swing, and it takes time to be able to put that swing into play over an extended period. It's not easy to take it from the range to the course. He's just got more confidence with it," Williams said.
Woods looked like he was returning to form recently, before blowing a four-shot lead in the final round of the Chevron World Challenge, losing to Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell in a playoff.
It was the first time in Woods' professional career he had lost a tournament after leading by at least three shots heading into the final round, but Williams said it was an encouraging sign.
"Last week was the first time he's played three good rounds in succession this year. It's been a difficult year and hard to focus on the task, but it's all started to come together so I'm excited for 2011."
A tough year indeed, but also an interesting one.
"It's kind of been fun in a way. You could say Tiger has been knocked off his perch and now it's a challenge to get back there."
He said not much had changed in Woods' routine, despite the challenges.
"When you get out on the course, nothing changes. You still go through the same routines."
And the ultimate goal?
"Tiger wants to beat Jack's [Nicklaus] record, so that's what makes you work hard and get up early and train in the gym. You only get four tournaments a year to get those wins, so it's an easy job to get motivated in."
Woods has 14 majors to his name, and has made no secret of his desire to break Nicklaus' record of 18. If Woods eclipsed the record, Williams would reassess when he worked, and for how often. But for now, golf's most famous partnership is strong.
What's not so strong is the presence of New Zealanders in world golf.
Williams said although the junior coaching had improved, the problem in New Zealand was not having enough golf courses that could test our best players. Many players were successful locally, but could not perform globally because of this.
"In 2011 not one New Zealand player has status on the US PGA tour. That's just incredible. We have to start identifying young players and have the structure in place for them."
Yesterday he spent time with a group of elite New Zealand amateurs, and his advice to them was to get over to Australia and test themselves against the best players as much as possible.
Having said that, he recognised the sport faced financial challenges in a small country.
"We don't have the finance to set up an institute solely dedicated to golf. You only have to look at the Victorian Institute of Sport to see the benefit that has. It's something that needs to be addressed by the people who run golf here in New Zealand."
- © Fairfax NZ News