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Woods getting older, better

Thomas Bonk Los Angeles Times

The numbers add up for Tiger Woods, just as they always have: $55.7 million in earnings on the PGA Tour, $67.9 million worldwide, 46 victories on the PGA Tour, 17 more worldwide, 10 major championship titles, seven times voted by his peers as player of the year.

There’s one more important number. He turns 30 on Dec. 30.

Tiger? 30? It doesn’t seem possible.

Even so, he will begin his 10th full year on the PGA Tour, in the second week of January.

When he looked into the television cameras, said, “Hello, world,” before his pro debut at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, only days after having won his third consecutive U.S. Amateur championship, Woods was 20.

It was only the start of what became a clear-cut Tiger decade.

“If you look at most of the guys’ careers, it looks like their peak years are in their 30s,” Woods said Tuesday. “Hopefully, that’ll be the case for me. Obviously, there’s a lot deeper competition, a lot more work I need to get done. I need to work very hard to accomplish those goals, but ultimately it’s winning major championships that I want to do.”

No player has done more than Woods in his 20s, and he remains as contemporary and formidable a figure as exists in his sport.

His mother sees lots more to come.

“Are you kidding me, the golf is just beginning,” Kultida Woods said. “You know Tiger’s goal: Jack Nicklaus. Tiger’s got 10 more years, 12 more years to go. He can catch him.”

Woods agreed.

“Certainly, if I play the way I know I can play, I think I can get there,” he said. “But I have a lot of work ahead of me. A lot of things I need to do to make myself peak at the right times, like I did this year. This year was one of those years when I put the pieces together at the right time, four straight times.

Nicklaus remains the standard by which Woods is measured and the matchup shows Tiger on the right track:

– Nicklaus won 30 PGA Tour events before he was 30. Woods has won 46.

– Nicklaus had won eight of his 18 major championships before 30. Woods has won 10.

Nicklaus won three of his record six Masters titles before 30. Woods has won four Masters.

If Nicklaus is any indication, there is success – and lots of it – to be had after 30. He won 43 of his 73 tour titles once he got out of his 20s, so Woods can keep the competition alive.

Michael Campbell, who stood up to Woods’ challenge and won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in June, said he has seen nothing to convince him that Woods may be in decline. Campbell and Woods played together at the PGA Grand Slam of Golf two weeks ago in Hawaii.

“He can get better,” Campbell said. “I’ve seen him some lately and his swing is a lot better than it was. That encourages better golf shots and less erratic ones. It’s going to be a very interesting year for Tiger.”

Woods said his swing changes, which helped him win the Masters and the British Open and contend at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, were becoming second nature to him. He pointed to his recent victories at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and at the PGA Grand Slam as examples.

“I’m starting to make it more fluid looking and more natural looking,” he said. “So, hence, it’s going to look different. Before it looked kind of robotic, in a sense. Now it’s starting to come together and the way I played in Japan was pretty cool.”

Campbell said Woods seemed a sure thing to pass Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.

“Absolutely,” he said. “He’s got 15 years left in him, that’s 60 more opportunities to win majors. You do the math.”

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