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Tiger Woods optimitic about return to top form

Tiger Woods is excited about his form for this week's U.S. PGA Championship, confident his hard work over the last 18 months is finally paying off.

The world number one says he is experiencing the same level of anticipation he felt in early 1999, shortly before he embarked on a remarkable run of seven major victories in 11 starts.

"This is very similar to that period I went through in 1998," the 28-year-old American told a news conference on Tuesday.

"Things are starting to come together and it's very exciting, just like it was when they were starting to gel towards the end of '98 and the beginning of '99.

"Have I ever second-guessed it? No, because I knew that this is the direction I wanted to take in order to become better. I'm very excited about the prospects of that happening."

Woods became the youngest player, at 21, to win the U.S. Masters in 1997 but he and his former coach Butch Harmon decided to revamp his swing the following year, setting their sights on longer term benefits in major championships.

Although Woods failed to win another major in his next 10 starts, their move eventually proved successful. He clinched the 1999 U.S. PGA Championship at Medinah, a victory which heralded one of the most dominant runs in the game's history.

Establishing himself as the best player in the world since Jack Nicklaus, Woods created an aura of invincibility and became the first man to hold all four majors at the same time with his two-shot triumph at the 2001 U.S. Masters.

"I got into a great rhythm and I was feeling very confident at the time," he said. "I was hitting a lot of fairways, hitting a lot of balls real close and making a bunch of putts.

"That was probably the best stretch I've ever had in my life putting-wise. At Pebble Beach (for the 2000 U.S. Open), I didn't miss one putt from inside 10 feet and it was about the same at the British Open."

However, Woods's dominance has waned since mid-2002 and he failed to win a major last year for the first time since 1998. Over the last two years, he has had problems with his driving and many of his peers feel he should get back together with Harmon.

"I haven't been hitting the ball quite as close to the flags, and I haven't been making as many putts," said Woods, who is bidding this week to end a run of nine majors without victory.

"You've just got to keep grinding, keep working at it and give yourself a lot of opportunities.

"I think that's what Jack (Nicklaus) was able to do better than any other player in the history of the game. He gave himself a lot of chances.

"I give myself a lot of chances and just haven't won. It's a matter of keep putting myself up there."

Woods signalled he was close to his best form by tying for third at the Buick Open two weeks ago, stringing together rounds of 67, 68, 66 and 66.

"Everyone one of us has moments when we have doubts and we've got to overcome them," he added. "That's part of the game. It's a matter of just getting up there and believing in your abilities.

"If you put in the work and know what you can do, it's just a matter of going out there and executing it properly.

"But it's never easy to win a major championship. I think all of you guys realise that now."

Woods is scheduled to tee off at 0820 local (1320 GMT) in Thursday's opening round in the company of twice major winners Vijay Singh and John Daly.

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