Turning 30, Woods gets ready to drive

He hits milestone, swings for future


He is no longer the phenom making brash remarks about winning every tournament he plays, and then backing it up by accomplishing more than just about any golfer in history.

He is no longer the tunnel-visioned perfectionist who seemed oblivious to the outside world, practicing his craft long after others had gone home to their families and relatively normal lives.

He is entering a new phase in what is already a legendary career, mostly because he is hitting a milestone - an age line of demarcation - that many identify as a time when players on the PGA Tour usually hit their prime.

Tiger Woods turns 30 today.

Already the most successful player in his 20s, with 10 major championships among his 46 tour victories, Woods is not making any bold predictions about the future, but seems more than confident that he is still capable of making history.

Breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional major championships? Still on the radar. Winning the Grand Slam in a single season rather than the four majors in a row Woods won in 2000 and 2001? Certainly possible, but far from guaranteed.

Coming off a 2005 season in which he was named the tour's Player of the Year for the seventh time in a nine-year career, a season in which he counted two major championships among his victories, Woods knows that the past performances of other thirtysomethings bodes well for his future.

The player Woods is chasing - Nicklaus - won eight majors in his 30s and three in his 40s, the last coming at the 1986 Masters.

"If you look at most of the guys' careers, it looks like their peak years are in their 30s," said Woods. "Hopefully, that will be the case for me. Hopefully, my 30s will be better than my 20s. That would be a pretty neat thing to have happen."

Talk of Woods' prolonged slump that corresponded to him overhauling his swing for the second time since turning pro was silenced last year when he ended a 14-month winless streak (in 72-hole events) early on, then won the Masters for the fourth time and the British Open for the second time.

"For people to question me, as I understand it, why would you make changes when you were so successful?" Woods said earlier this month. "I went through the same process in '97, '98, and half of '99 before it came together, so I kind of had the blueprint on how to deal with it."

Woods went through his first renovation after winning the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes and setting the tournament's scoring record.

"My swing was good enough to compete on tour, but I didn't think it was good enough to compete consistently," Woods said. "I had a lot of holes in my game. All the great champions that have ever played, that's what they did."

Woods will now have to deal with the scrutiny that comes with turning 30.

Though golfers, unlike other athletes, have a much longer shelf life when it comes to winning - Fred Funk won The Players Championship this year at age 48- Woods knows his career will be judged a little differently.

His marriage earlier this year to former Swedish model Elin Nordegren appears to have had a positive effect on him. His friends and associates say Woods is more relaxed and better able to balance his life on and off the course.

Woods agrees.

"It's actually a lot easier to balance," he said. "To have other outlets in your life makes it more balanced. You don't have one thing dominate your life, which when I first came out here, that's what it was - nothing but golf. It had to be. I had to get my career started.

"When I got closer to [Mark] O'Meara and being around him, he made it pointedly aware of how important it is to have balance. If you want to survive out here for a long period of time, you have to have outlets. It's tough playing out here with all the distractions and pressures you have."

Woods will put off the start of his 2006 season for a bit, skipping the Mercedes Championships after playing in a number of Silly Season events, including one that he hosts in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Once the Masters rolls around in April, talk will start anew of a single-season Grand Slam.

"I think it could be," said Woods. "It takes four wins. Everything has to come together at the right time - the moon and the stars - and there is a lot of luck involved."


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