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Tiger claims to be back in the swing after rolling home in third


But for a couple of poor tee shots, Tiger Woods believes he could have been celebrating the end of a two-year title drought at the Australian Open here yesterday.

A week in Sydney that started with the controversy over a racist comment made about him by his former caddie Steve Williams ended with the 14-times major champion back in the hunt at the business end of a tournament. There were signs at that Woods is finally taking the steps forward that will bring him his 96th career title.

"I felt great, it's nice to be finally healthy again, it's been such a long time," Woods, ranked 58th in the world, said after finishing in third, two shots behind local winner Greg Chalmers. That was the 35-year-old's mantra all week. His recovery from Achilles and knee injuries, he said, was finally allowing him to put in the hours of work necessary to get to grips with his new swing, and it was starting to show in tournament play.

On Thursday, he posted his first blemish-free round for nine months with a four-under-par 68. On Friday his 67 put him in the lead overnight for the first time this year. Saturday's three-over 75 was a step backwards but at least, he said, he was fit enough to get out and tweak a few things.

"I was close to finding it [on Saturday] but it wasn't quite there," he said. "Did some work on the range, did a lot of work on the putting range and found my stroke, found some of the old keys and rolled it good today. It was simple little fixes. I just had to reset my game and I was fine."

Six shots off the pace going into the final round, Woods drew within a shot of the leader after a chipped eagle at the 14th before having to settle for another 67 and an 11-under finish. "Today could have been really low, I hit the ball good," he said. "I had two bad tee shots on the back nine, made two bogeys, but other than that I controlled it all day." REUTERS