By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
MELBOURNE, Australia -- The streaky Tiger Woods who tied for 30th last month at the Frys.com Open only had one bad round and contended last week at the Australian Open.
Woods' third-place finish at The Lakes in Sydney on Sunday certainly appeared to justify Fred Couples' faith in making the former world No. 1 one of his Captain's Picks for this week's Presidents Cup -- even though the announcement was seen in some quarters as decidedly premature.
Woods felt he played "reasonably well" in California, which was his first event since the PGA Championship. Last week, he felt like he was back in the "flow of competitive golf again" and those 36- and 54-hole days of practice back home in Florida were paying dividends.
That new swing the healthy Woods has so carefully crafted under the guidance of Sean Foley is starting to feel like his own. The two talk and text frequently, and Woods says he now understands the errant shot and how to fix it in competition.
"Last week was a good test for it," Woods said. "It felt great on the weekend when I needed it."
John Cook, who was a late addition to the U.S. Presidents Cup team as an assistant captain, is one of Woods' oldest and closest friends on TOUR. Cook played at the Australian Open, too, finishing in a tie for 23rd, and he likes the direction Woods is heading.
"What I've seen lately is, trust in what he's doing, trust in
what he's doing with Sean," Cook said. "He realizes that what he's
doing is so much easier on his body that he really has a confidence
in what his body can do now. It's not hurting. To play hurt like he
did for that many years and to do as well as he did is just a
testament to himself.
"But when you have a healthy, confident Tiger that believes in what he's doing, I think that bodes pretty well for the state of the game. ... We saw it last week. ... In a relaxed state, he's fantastic, the same. You couldn't tell if it was 2000 or 2011. But getting into those tense, kind of anxious moments to see how it does, and for three rounds out of four last week, he was that guy.
"So you know, it's just a confidence-building, each step is more and more confident."
Woods said he was "grateful" to be part of the U.S. Team for the seventh time. "Fred could have picked anybody, and I'm thankful that he had faith in me to be part of the team," Woods said. Cook thinks Woods has extra motivation for that very reason, just as he's striving to resurrect his game.
"I've never given up on Tiger Woods as a golfer, as a person," Cook said. "He's gone through his things, obviously. I'm always willing to give him a chance to believe in what he's doing and then taking it to that next level. He knows his place in history. He wants to get better. And to see someone like that that has been so, so very high at the top of the mountain and then, you know, struck down, and then battling back; his will to win is exceptional, better than probably anybody that's ever lived playing any sport. This guy is very, very driven.
"... Anybody that's just jumped off that (band)wagon, they jumped off way too quick, because ... I have a feeling he's going to make people eat their words and I'll be the first one in line to congratulate him. Because I look forward to that moment when he does something that they figured he could never do again, and he's going to do it a lot more."