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Euro vice-captain has sympathy for Tiger's fall from grace

ANNIKA SORENSTAM met Tiger Woods for the first time in two years a couple of weeks back and found him as friendly and personable as ever.

"He came up and gave me a hug and it was like nothing happened," she explained, yet Sorenstam wishes she could say the same about Tiger's ailing golf game.

Few golfers were closer to Woods during the glory days than Sorenstam, one of Europe's vice-captains at this week's Solheim Cup in Killeen Castle.

The two world No 1s regularly used to practice together at their peak and would exchange cheerful texts whenever they won, which seemed like every week.

They were golfing royalty, majestic on the course and a shining example to their peers off it. Or so Sorenstam thought until Tiger's private life was thrown into turmoil.

"I think we all were shocked. I certainly was," she said. "That's not the guy I was texting or practising with. He lived a double life. He portrayed this image of a family man. It really was far from reality. I'm also a friend of his wife and it really was a heartbreaking situation for both of them."

Though she'd never say never where Woods is concerned, Sorenstam finds it hard to imagine him ever again exercising the same domination.

"When I saw him a few weeks ago, he was very, very nice. You just look at somebody and you feel bad for them. I hope he can bounce back. Yet he has a very long road to go."

After watching Woods play at a recent outing, Sorenstam said she was, "surprised to see how far he's fallen -- therefore he has so many steps to come back just to play consistently and start winning again. He's great for the game, we need Tiger, but I think it's not going to be the way it was."

Asked if Tiger's problem was in his head or his swing, Sorenstam went on: "It's everywhere. One thing leads to another. We all know confidence is everything and he's not swinging the way he was.

"A lot of things have changed -- he's had surgery, changed coaches and changed his caddie. It's hard to play a game that's so tough with a lot of changes, so he has to get comfortable with this.

"Right now, he's not playing, which makes it harder. We all know you can't just work on the range, you have to take it on the course. So we'll all have to just wait and see."

Irish Independent