WITH the two-year anniversary of his last tournament win fast approaching, Tiger Woods is preparing for next month's Australian Open amid growing doubts over whether he can ever regain his former dominance.
His world ranking has slipped to 55th and golfing greats Nick Faldo and Greg Norman have both said that Woods is incapable of adding further major titles to his career haul of 14.
Woods himself bristles at such notions, but time is beginning to run out for the former world number one who will celebrate his 36th birthday in December and has already undergone four surgeries on his left knee.
Ever since Woods's world was seismically shifted by lurid details of his marital infidelities in 2009, he has struggled on and off the course.
His marriage disintegrated, he battled injuries to his left knee ligaments and Achilles tendon earlier this year and has been working through the fourth swing change of his career.
A combination of injuries and poor form severely curtailed his 2011 PGA Tour campaign and he ended up a lowly 128th in the money list with earnings of $660,238 from just nine starts.
After failing to qualify for the lucrative FedEx Cup play-offs, Woods was urged by US Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples to try and play himself into form ahead of the November 17-20 tournament in Melbourne.
Consequently, Woods added the Frys.com Open at CordeValle in California to his schedule, his first appearance in one of the PGA Tour's Fall Series events which generally attract only the journeymen on the circuit and players striving to retain their cards.
Woods finished in a tie for 30th but he was encouraged after shooting three-under-par 68s in his last three rounds.
"I got better every day," he said. "The game's coming."
Woods played with good friend Arjun Atwal in the final round at CordeValle and the Indian marvelled at his form. "He is very close to his best," Atwal said.
Injuries are no longer a problem for Woods, who says he has regained strength and the "explosiveness" back in his left leg since being sidelined for three months earlier this year.
Woods has not triumphed anywhere since the 2009 Australian Masters.
If he continues his progress, he could complete a tortuous journey on Australian soil by ending a two-year wait to get back into the winner's circle.