OLYMPIA FIELDS (Illinois): Tiger Woods is without a major title to defend for the first time in nearly four years, but he refuses to accept any suggestion that he is in a slump.
On the contrary, the world number one believes he is close to playing his best game and puts down his failure to contend at the 103rd US Open over the weekend as part of the vagaries of golf.
“It was frustrating in general this week because I never got anything going,” Woods said, after closing rounds of 75 and 72 left him tied for 20th in his title defence at Olympia Fields Country Club.
“I was so close to putting it together. You hit a good shot in there, and you miss the slope by just a yard. All I needed was a little bit of momentum to get things going.
“It’s not like I’m playing and can’t hit a shot. I’m hitting good shots and it’s a matter of making some putts.”
Woods, who won last year’s tournament by three shots at Bethpage Black, began the week knowing failure to defend would leave him without a major title for the first time since his 1999 US PGA Championship triumph at Medinah.
The 27-year-old American was bidding for a third US Open crown in four years and the ninth major title of his career, despite having had to reduce his tournament schedule in 2003 following knee surgery last December.
In the tournament build-up, he exuded confidence.
“If you can win one major, you’ve had a great year,” he said. “That’s always been my goal, and that’s my goal this week – to win the tournament.”
Asked if he was in a major slump, after failing to win any of golf’s top four titles since his US Open victory at Bethpage 12 months earlier, he replied: “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a slump, no.
“I think my overall career has been pretty good. Ever since I came out of the womb and I’ve started playing golf, I’ve had a pretty good career.”
Woods has not enjoyed optimum preparation for this year’s majors following his surgery. Usually, he would have played 12 tournaments before the US Open; this season, he has managed only eight.
Tom Watson, an eight-times major champion, does not accept that Woods is going through a lean spell in the majors.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about Tiger Woods not winning a major for a year,” the 53-year-old American said. “How many years did Jack Nicklaus go without winning a major?”
The answer is that Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 majors, failed to win one in 1964, 1968, 1969, 1977 and 1979 when at the height of his powers.