(Reuters) - Tiger Woods will build off the momentum he generated in his comeback season from spinal fusion surgery and inch closer to the all-time record of 18 major victories, according to former Ryder Cup player and TV analyst David Feherty.
Woods silenced even his harshest critics when he earned what some consider to be one of the greatest victories of his career at last year’s Tour Championship season finale and Feherty feels the 43-year-old American may have more in store this year.
“There’s only one mistake I’ve made with him over the years and that’s underestimating him,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview from a ranch east of Dallas, Texas. “I’d be very surprised actually if he doesn’t win a major this year.”
Feherty, whose self-titled interview series on Golf Channel returns Feb. 25 for a ninth season, said the only thing that could keep former world number one Woods from adding to his tally of 14 major victories is a change in his health.
Woods, who collected his last major at the 2008 U.S. Open, has had plenty of health-related setbacks, having to endure several knee and back surgeries, and his career seemed to be nearing its end in 2017.
But Feherty said those who overlooked Woods after a series of false starts simply forgot about his incomparable will to win, and that gave the golfer added motivation.
“He’s got such willpower and such a... I wouldn’t call it a chip on his shoulder but he didn’t like the fact that people forgot who the hell he was for a little while there,” said Feherty, whose initial run of guests includes Fred Couples, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka.
“People have got short memories. He was number one in the world for a combined 683 weeks, 13 years (total) in a sport where you are not playing one person at a time... It’s a phenomenon that we’ll never see in any sport.”
Feherty, a five-times winner on the European Tour before he embarked on a broadcasting career in 1997, expects Woods to be a threat at each of the year’s four majors, starting with the April 11-14 Masters.
Woods has not triumphed at Augusta National since collecting his fourth Green Jacket in 2005 but has said he will adjust his schedule this year after admitting to being exhausted by the workload he took on in his comeback season.
“I think he’ll be in fantastic shape going into the Masters, which is the one (major) that he is most likely to win,” said Northern Irishman Feherty. “He could be right there for three or four of them... he’s got a great chance.”
Woods’ victory at last year’s Tour Championship, where an incredible sea of people followed him up the final fairway, was his first PGA Tour success in more than five years and left him two wins shy of tying Sam Snead’s all-time mark of 82.
The triumph capped a season in which Woods flirted with victory several times, including some thrilling final-round charges that enraptured galleries and led some to believe that he may still eclipse Jack Nicklaus’s tally of major victories.
Either way, Feherty, widely respected inside and outside the ropes for his work in the United States as an on-course analyst, feels certain generations will pass before a golfer comes along and remains a force on the PGA Tour for as long as Woods has.
“It’s extremely difficult to stay mentally strong enough to do what Tiger Woods did,” said Feherty. “That’s why we’ve never seen that before. My children won’t see that golf and their children won’t see golf like that.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris