Golf-Tiger primed for liftoff at Augusta - Lyle

Reuters

Mon, 21 Mar 19:49:00 2011

Tiger Woods is turning the corner with his game and victory at next month's U.S. Masters would put him back on track to break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major wins, according to former Masters champion Sandy Lyle.

Former world number one Woods is without a trophy since the 2009 Australian Masters but a top-10 finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship this month, his first on the PGA Tour since June, suggested he was starting to find his form.

"I think he's going in the right direction," Briton Lyle told Reuters on Monday. "From what I can see he could be heading back to the way he played in the 1990s under the guidance of (former coach) Butch Harmon.

"He will obviously be very annoyed with his performances last year and this year he's going to come out with all guns blazing.

"The Masters may be a great springboard for him and if he wins next month then Jack's record could be in jeopardy again," added the 53-year-old Scot.

Lyle is expecting Woods to be galvanised by the special setting of Augusta where he claimed Green Jackets in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.

"He knows the course so damned well and I'm sure he will be inspired to do well," said the winner of the 1988 Masters and the 1985 British Open.

"You know he's not sitting around on the couch all day long watching TV. He is going to make sure he goes into the Masters in tip-top shape.

"I don't think he will leave a stone unturned. He will be in as good as shape as he possibly can be and going by his start to the year he sounds reasonably optimistic about his game and is starting to see some shots he hasn't seen in a while."

Woods, 35, has been criticised in several quarters for deciding to undergo the fourth swing change of his career, this time under the direction of Canadian coach Sean Foley.

However, Lyle, who recorded his first victory in 19 years by capturing the Senior World Championship in China this month, believes the 14-times major winner has made the right move.

OLD BACKSWING

"I wasn't overly keen on some of the takeaway positions he was trying to create with his old backswing," said the Scot.

"Now you can definitely see a change in the 1ast three or four feet of the backswing so the club is a lot squarer to the target and slightly more inside.

"There also seems to be a better shoulder tilt which is more matching his arm angle. He is staying connected a lot better and his balance is improving," added Lyle.

"I think by the end of this year you'll start seeing very steady scoring from Tiger. You won't see a 73 and then all of a sudden a 66, you will see a lot of 68s and 67s and his confidence will get stronger."

Lyle, though, conceded that Woods would have to start waving his putter like a magic wand again in order to sustain a level of scoring improvement, starting at this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.

"His putting is a little flaky right now but if his golf is okay he'll start making putts again," said the former European Ryder Cup stalwart.

"He has got a tough task ahead. He's obviously had some tough life changes in the last couple of years and it's going to take a while to get back in the swing of things.

"Tiger's world is a whole different world now. He made it that way and he's got to face the music," added Lyle, referring to the American's marital infidelities and recent divorce. "A few years ago, when he was chalking up his major wins like crossing off items on a shopping list, he was quite incredible and it looked like he was well ahead of his record target," Lyle said.

"He won 14 within no time and you thought, 'Crikey, he is going to beat Jack's record in a couple of years'," said Lyle.

"I'm sure that is still his drive and his goal now -- not just to win tournaments but to win majors."

The Masters, the first major of the season, starts on April 7.

 

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