December 23, 2015 / 8:04 PM / 2 years ago

Tiger eyes pain-free 2016 after a year of struggle

(Reuters) - With his 40th birthday just one week away, Tiger Woods looks optimistically forward to playing golf pain-free next year while he reflects on a 2015 campaign blighted by injuries, poor form and a plummeting world ranking.

U.S. golfer Tiger Woods smiles during a golf clinic in Mexico City October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

The greatest player of his generation and arguably of all time, Woods has not won a tournament anywhere since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and his title drought in the major championships dates back to the 2008 U.S. Open.

Woods, the world number one for a record total of 683 weeks who is now stunningly ranked 414th, said earlier this month that he was in the dark about the future of his playing career, asking himself: “Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?”

Yet the winner of 79 career PGA Tour events now says he firmly believes he will still be contending, and emerging triumphant, in the majors over the next five to 10 years while “still playing golf at the highest level”.

In a blog posted on the PGA Tour’s website, Woods wrote: ”The thing I‘m looking forward to the most about 2016 is getting back out there again. I’ve missed it, and I would like to do it pain-free.

“I haven’t done that in what seems like a long time. I’ve had it in spurts the last few years and have done some pretty good things, but I’d like to have sustained health.”

Woods, who has slipped in recent years due to injuries and mastering of a new swing, thought he was back to form after tying for 10th at the Wyndham Championship in August, following a dismal season in which he missed three cuts in the majors.

But three weeks later he had a second microdiscectomy surgery to alleviate pressure on a disc in his lower back, before needing another procedure on Oct. 28 on the same area due to discomfort.

ROLLER-COASTER

“As far as 2015, it was a tough year physically and took a toll on my body,” said Woods, whose career tally of 14 major victories is surpassed only by Jack Nicklaus (18).

”I had to battle through a swing pattern change and get that organized, because it was awful at the beginning of the year ... the frustrating part was not being able to build on it throughout the year.

“To finally have it switch and turn in the last event I played at the Wyndham Championship, and then lo and behold, I can’t physically do it any more ... so it’s been a roller-coaster ride the entire year.”

This week, though, he appeared to be much more confident about his prospects.

“Where do I see myself in the next five to 10 years? I am still playing golf at the highest level and winning tournaments and major championships,” Woods said.

As for the short-term, he has set his sights on watching his beloved Stanford University soccer team and also the latest blockbuster to emerge from Hollywood.

“I am really looking forward to watching Stanford play Iowa in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 on TV,” Woods said. I’ve followed the team every game. If I can’t watch it live, every game is DVR’d and I’ve seen every play.

“I want to go see the new ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’ I was a total geek growing up and had ‘Star Wars’ wallpaper in my room. My kids love it, too.”

Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine

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