- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - The crowd was smaller. The tournament has moved to a different golf course. The Australian Masters can no longer boast of having the No. 1 player in the world.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed this year are Tiger Woods‘ intentions.

“I think I’ve got a pretty good chance of winning the event if I play the way I know I can play,” Woods said.

These days, that’s a big if.

Woods is one week away from going winless for a calendar year for the first time in his career. The best he can say is that he is coming off consecutive top 10s, although that’s a little misleading. While he tied for sixth in the HSBC Champions, he was 12 shots out of the lead. And technically, he finished fourth at a charity skins game in Thailand, where there were only four players.

Indeed, progress takes on a new meaning these days.

A year ago, Woods capped off another stellar season when he won the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath for his seventh victory of the year and the 82nd worldwide of his career. Then came a swift and spectacular downfall, starting with a middle-of-the-night car accident outside his home after Thanksgiving that set off revelations of extramarital affairs.

Woods, who spent nearly five months away from golf, has not won a tournament since last year in Melbourne.

“I think we know how good a player he is, and when he’s on, he’s just spectacular,” Sergio Garcia said. “He’s had his problems, too, like we all know. He’s trying to get everything back to where it was before, to get on his comfort level, I guess.”

The Australian Masters gets under way Thursday at Victoria Golf Club, a clever golf course that starts with a 257-yard hole surrounded by daunting bunkers that will remain a par 3 for the tournament. It ends with consecutive par 5s.

Along with Woods, playing in Melbourne for the second straight year after an 11-year absence, the field features Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Michael Sim, Camilo Villegas and Geoff Ogilvy, who grew up at Victoria and knows this course better than any in the world.

Woods had never seen it until his pro-am Wednesday, sending Steve Williams on a scouting report Tuesday as Woods took a break from playing in Shanghai last week and the skins game in Thailand on Monday.

“These greens have a lot of movement to them, so you have to hit the ball on the fairway to hit good irons shots into the proper spots and have good putts at it,” Woods said. “These greens, if you miss them on the wrong spot, you’re not making par. You have to put the ball in the correct spot, and that starts with your placement on the tee and what angle you want to have. It’s just fun to play.”

Not much about this year has been fun, including a trophy case that is collecting dust.

Off the course hasn’t been much better. Woods spent his summer trying to figure out a swing while working out details on a divorce settlement. His divorce became official Aug. 23.

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