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Woods needs consistency to challenge for majors

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Iain Carter | 20:06 UK time, Sunday, 29 January 2012

Following up a low round with another is one of the hardest tasks in professional golf.

In his pomp it was one of Tiger Woods's many strengths and it helped set him apart from the rest.

This is no longer the case, as he showed in his comparatively ragged finish to the Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday, when he surrendered a share of the overnight lead to finish joint third.

Woods's disappointing closing 72 was nothing new and continued a trend that has been a feature of his game for the last couple of years.

During his near faultless 66 in the third round, commentators and pundits claimed we now had confirmation that the 14-time major champion was back to his best. It was a premature assessment.

Tiger Woods plays a shot from a bunker

Woods faded in the final round at Abu Dhabi to finish joint third overall. Photo: AP

Similar sentiments were expressed at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, when Woods was brilliant in a third-round 66, only to follow it with a 75 that left him with a share of fourth place.

In the Masters the same year he followed a second-round 66 with a 74, then at Bay Hill a fine Friday 68 preceded a dispiriting Saturday 74.

More recently, in finishing third at the Australian Open at the end of last year, opening rounds of 68 and 67 were followed by a 75.

Even when he won his own limited field World Challenge he was six strokes worse the day after his second-round 67 put him in control of the tournament.

These scoring patterns suggest he is as vulnerable as most players to the peaks and troughs of a tournament week.

But the form line remains encouraging because, since finally declaring himself free of injury concerns, he has finished in the top three in his last three strokeplay events.

Even though the control of the first 54 holes was lacking over the final round in Abu Dhabi, it was clear Woods's swing has become technically sound, and there is little doubt he will be in the mix this year to add to his tally of 14 majors.

"He just hit it a little bit out of position off the tee," Abu Dhabi champion Robert Rock told BBC Sport after admirably fending off a Woods challenge which was undermined by hitting only five greens in regulation.

"If you are in the rough you don't have the control you would like, so, whether you are swinging well or not, from the rough it is just a bit of a hack out."

Rock, a self-confessed golf swing "nerd", was still impressed with Woods's action. "He hit some very good three woods off the tee which were very impressive - low fades, which is a shot I think he has been working on," he said. "They looked brilliant.

"He's well on the way to playing like he used to - probably better."

Robert Rock

Abu Dhabi champion and Staffordshire-born Robert Rock admires Tiger's rebuilt swing. Photo: Getty

Woods does look increasingly comfortable under the tutelage of Sean Foley.

"A year ago I didn't have the knowledge about what Sean was trying to get me to do," the former world number one told us in Abu Dhabi.

"Right now I'm able to shape the ball both ways and change my trajectory along the way, so I'm headed in the right direction."

Those comments came after his third-round 66. Sustaining momentum from such scoring is now Woods's challenge because, as Rock proved, it is possible to stand up to the modern day Tiger even when you are ranked 117 in the world.

The Englishman, meanwhile, can build on this victory and force his way into the world's top 50.

It is a genuinely heart-warming story that should encourage all aspiring teaching pros because that is exactly what Rock was less than a decade ago.

"It seems a long, long way when you are in that position and if you look at it as one big leap it doesn't seem possible," Rock said.

"It's not the easiest way to do it. Working at golf clubs seems like you would be playing a lot of golf, but you don't.

"But if you go along the right routes and have a plan for it, then it is do-able."

Woods never went through the process of teaching hackers and selling them chocolate bars; he just played and learned the art of winning at every level as he rose to the top.

Now he is trying to rescale those heights and, although he won on his last outing before Abu Dhabi, it seems he still has a way to go to rediscover the killer touch of old when it comes to full-field events.

That is no disgrace given the strength in depth of the modern game, and Woods's bid to return to his dominant ways provides us with one of the most compelling storylines of the 2012 season.

The last time he backed up a genuinely low round with another was when he finished 65-65 to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in 2009.

When he does it again we will be able to use the "he's back" phrase with a great deal more certainty.

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