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Australian adventure a confidence boost for Tiger

ESPN staff
November 23, 2011
Tiger Woods had fun in Australia, but his putting remains a key concern © Getty Images
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What can we really take away from a decent week for Tiger Woods at the Presidents Cup, then, considering in his prime he was always so decidedly unimpressive in team events?

Was his mildly encouraging performance at Royal Melbourne (two wins and three defeats) further evidence that he is getting back to his best, after a solid showing at the Australian Open a week prior? Or can we learn nothing from four days where Jim Furyk won all five of his matches, despite coming off the back of a season that has been far from his best?

The truth is we can probably take a couple of things from Woods' latest performance - as he was certainly a lot tighter from tee to green than we have seen over the last few months. His short game also showed its customary sharpness - as evidenced by the bunker shot that finally beat Aaron Baddeley in Sunday's decisive singles match - and Woods has been even more positive than is usual in the aftermath of the event, won narrowly by the US team when his putt to claim a 4&3 victory dropped.

"I finally feel like I've been able to implement everything now onto the golf course in a tournament situation," Woods told CNBC on Monday. "The way I hit the ball in Australia was basically the way I've been hitting the ball at home, but I hadn't taken it to the golf course yet.

"It's fun to actually be able to hit the ball like that in a tournament situation under pressure ... the transition is always difficult, but I've finally gotten myself to that point.

"I'm starting to play better now. I finished third in the Australian Open and then obviously last week (in the Presidents Cup) didn't count as far as points or anything, but I played even better. It's just a matter of putting it together over a longer period of time."

Watch out for Kim

Kyung-tae Kim could break out in 2011 © Getty Images
  • Last week's Presidents Cup threw up many interesting storylines - Jim Furyk's revival, Jason Day's struggles on home turf, Tiger Woods' encouraging singles display - but perhaps none will prove quite as much of a turning point as the whole experience will prove for Kyung-tae Kim.

    Kim, a 25-year-old from South Korea, has been undoubtedly the highest ranked 'unknown' golfer in the game this year, spending much of 2011 inside the world's top 20 despite having hardly played on either the European or PGA Tour outside of six major appearances and a handful of WGC events.

  • But he has made the cut in five of those majors (finishing in a tie for 30th at this year's US Open), an indication of an impressive quality that he further underlined with a narrow 1up victory over Webb Simpson - arguably the second or third best golfer in the world right now - in the singles at a treacherous Royal Melbourne.
  • It was the end to an eventful week for Kim, who helped partner KJ Choi to defeat an American pair that included Tiger Woods in a tense fourballs encounter on Saturday, even as the International team went on to lose overall.

  • Having had limited exposure of golf on either of the two major tours, Kim should now be in no doubt he can mix it with the very best in the world - especially as he is clearly a fine putter. Given time to build his experience of western courses, he could well be the next Asian player to follow YE Yang and claim a major.

  • "It wasn't really a good start today but I tried to just think of myself, just play myself," Kim said of his battle with Simpson. "I had a good result and I'm happy."
  • Becoming a more global player should also be less of a daunting experience now, after being made to feel a real part of Greg Norman's team and creating a bond with players who have taken to globetrotting as a way of life.

  • "I enjoyed it here, and this is the most memorable event that I have ever played," he noted. "The team is really ... they are like family here."
  • Right now, Kim may be the best player you've never heard of - but that might not be so true in 12 months' time.

The last comment is perhaps the most telling, as the one question that most obviously remains unanswered surrounds Woods' putting. The American has looked tentative with the flatstick on almost every outing since his return from injury in the second half of 2011 - and that didn't really change in Australia, even on admittedly slick and testing greens.

He putted quite poorly for three days, only really finding his range and touch on the final day. But one good putting day in four will not be good enough for him to win too many tournaments next year, especially as the Presidents Cup only served to highlight the importance of putting in the professional game (Woods may have struggled, but by and large the US team were better on the greens - and that is ultimately why they won).

The 14-time major champion is unlikely to opt for a relatively 'quick' fix like moving to the belly putter, which means he would be well advised to spend a great part of his off-season trying to regain his purpose and aggression on the greens. If he finds that, he really will be a dangerous proposition by the time the big events of 2012 roll around.

In the meantime, it was noteworthy to see Woods enjoying himself. After dealing with the lingering fallout from former caddie Steve Williams' ill-advised comments early in the week in a professional manner (a perfunctory handshake putting matters to rest), Woods relaxed as the days wore on and was a pretty excitable member of the US team by the end - sharing celebratory hugs with the likes of Webb Simpson and Nick Watney after victory was earned while even donning a novelty hat from one of the members of the gallery.

As much as his recent absences (both enforced and self-inflicted) have hampered his game on the course, it's worth remembering that they have done just as much, if not more damage to his standing off it. Rebuilding that relationship with fans may not just be the key to restocking his portfolio of sponsors - it could actually also be integral to finally getting his game back on the right track.

Entertaining but unremarkable, Presidents Cup still needs a spark

The Presidents Cup is good fun, an entertaining way to spend a week, but remains nowhere near the level of importance or interest that surrounds the Ryder Cup.

Cultivating an air of gravitas at the event was helped by the fact former NBA superstar Michael Jordan was unable to fulfil his ceremonial role as an assistant captain (instead having to stay back in the US to negotiate with players over the current lockout, in his role as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats), but the atmosphere remained nothing like what is experienced every other year for the Ryder Cup.

The problem, at its core, is that the event just isn't competitive - the US have won seven and lost just one of the nine iterations of the competition. It needs both a reversal of those fortunes, and one or more characters who can whip up a genuine rivalry between the two sides - rather than the extended business retreat it currently is.

The Ryder Cup needed a player like Seve Ballesteros to make it the event it is today - but the Presidents Cup needs for the Internationals to find both a player and a personality like the late, great Spaniard if it is to become a truly worthwhile team event in its own right.

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