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Golf | US Masters

Tiger back on top, prowling for 15th major title



Tiger Woods, back atop the world rankings for the first time since October of 2010, resumes his quest for a 15th major title in two weeks at the Masters with a hot putter and new confidence.

"It has been a few years," Woods said, since he has felt so confident heading to Augusta National, where the 14-time major champion will try to close the gap next month on the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

"Over a period of time it has been years since I've hit the ball this consistently day-in and day-out.

"I'm very pleased that some of the shots that I struggled with last year are now strengths. One of the things that we need to continue to work on is getting it more refined because my good ones are really good."

Woods jumped over Rory McIlroy to become golf's world No 1 with a victory Monday in the storm-delayed final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, collecting his eighth title at Bay Hill and third victory so far this year.

Woods, who has won this year at Torrey Pines and Doral as well, says he has not putted with such confidence in a long time.

And putting will be vital April 11-14 on the undulating greens of Augusta National, where he won in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.

"The three events that I've won, I've putted well," Woods said. "That feels good. You've got to hit it pure, and I've been able to do that and I've made my share of putts, especially some really key putts."

Woods has had to overcome knee injuries and an infamous sex scandal that erupted in late 2009, but he seems to have done both, announcing last week that he is dating US ski star Lindsey Vonn and then reclaiming his top ranking.

Asked what relevance the romance announcement and return to the top have with each other, Woods replied, "You're reading way too much into this." When told that many others will as well, Woods answered: "shocker."

What has been as shocking as Woods sliding to 58th in the world rankings has been the way he has rebuilt his game since then.

"If I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level," Woods said. "I know I can be where I'm contending in every event, contending in major championships and being consistent day-in and day-out. That was the first step in the process. Once I got there, then my game turned."

But it's not a full return to form until Woods starts winning majors once again.

"You've got to be able to do it at home first, that's where it all starts, and do it consistently," Woods said.

"Then it feeds into coming out here and being able to do it Thursday, Friday and then ultimately down the stretch on Sunday of a tournament. Then you've got to do it in a major championship.

"That process has been evolving, and you can see the stepping stones."

Woods has shown the form that brought him four major titles in the row, the Tiger Slam of 2000-2001, and a domination of the game. But he has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won a Masters in eight years.

"At one point in my career to have all four of them on my coffee table in a row was a pretty neat feeling," Woods said of golf's major trophies.

Doral and Bay Hill wins were the first time Tiger had won back-to-back starts since just before the 2009 PGA Championship, where he led after 54 holes but lost to South Korea's Yang Yong-Eun, the first Asian man to win a major title.

"It shows that my game is consistent," Woods said. "It's at a high level. You're not going to play well each and every day. But it's getting the little things out of each round.

"You have got to grind it out and get those rounds in and that's something that I've done. I've turned rounds that should be 1- or 2-over to under-par rounds and that has allowed me to go ahead and win golf tournaments."

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