Tiger encouraged by Sydney showing

Sydney: But for a couple of poor tee shots, Tiger Woods believes he could have been celebrating the end of a two-year title drought at the Australian Open on Sunday.

A week in Sydney that started with the controversy over a racist comment made about him by his former caddie Steve Williams ended with the 14-times major champion back in the hunt at the business end of a tournament.

Two years of injury and personal turmoil almost brought a halt to one of the greatest careers in golf but there were signs at the Lakes Golf Club that Woods is finally taking the steps forward that will bring him his 96th career title.

"I felt great, it`s nice to be finally healthy again, it`s been such a long time," Woods, now ranked 58th in the world, said after finishing in third place on Sunday, two shots behind local winner Greg Chalmers.

That was the 35-year-old`s mantra all week. His recovery from Achilles and knee injuries, he said, was finally allowing him to put in the hours of work necessary to get to grips with his new swing, and it was starting to show in tournament play.

On Thursday, he posted his first blemish free-round for nine months with a four-under-par 68. On Friday his five-under 67 put him in the lead overnight for the first time this year.

Saturday`s three-over 75 was a step backwards but at least, he said, he was fit enough to get out and tweak a few things in practise.

"I was close to finding it yesterday but it wasn`t quite there," he said. "Did some work on the range, did a lot of work on the putting range and found my stroke, found some of the old keys and rolled it good today.”

"It was simple little fixes ... I just had to reset my game and I was fine."

Six shots off the pace going into Sunday`s final round, Woods drew within a shot of the leader after a superb chipped eagle at the 14th before having to settle for another 67 and an 11-under finish.

"Today was a day that could have been really low, I hit the ball really good out there," he said. "I had two bad tee shots on the back nine, made two bogeys, but other than that I controlled it all day.”

"I had a chance," he added. "I kept telling myself I needed to post 13 or 14 (under) to get up there, unfortunately I didn`t post the number I wanted.”

"Two holes on the back nine today and I putted awful yesterday. I`d have been right there."

Woods now moves on to Melbourne for the Presidents Cup next week in Melbourne and his showing in Sydney should at least have defused the controversy around United States skipper Fred Couples selecting him as a captain`s pick.

"It will be good to get with the team and figure out our strategy, figure out who`s going to tee off from what tees and what balls we`re going to use and all of that sort of thing that goes into team events," Woods said. "It`ll be great."

Bureau Report

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