By Tony Jimenez
LONDON (Reuters) – Former world number one Martin Kaymer believes back injury victim Tiger Woods can add to his haul of 14 major championship wins as long as he returns to golf with a clean bill of health.
Woods said last week that he hoped to make his comeback at next month’s Safeway Open in California after spending more than a year on the sidelines.
The 40-year-old American has a long-standing ambition to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories and Kaymer told Reuters in a telephone interview that he would not rule anything out for one of the greatest players of all time.
“At the end of the day it all comes down to Tiger’s health,” the German said. “If he can practice the way he wants to practice, as hard as he wants, then I think he can win any golf tournament in the world.
“He’s proved it before so I don’t see why he can’t do it again. The competition now is obviously a lot harder but I think it would be very disrespectful to take him out of consideration for winning any tournament in the world.”
Woods, who has undergone multiple back operations, last played competitively at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina in August 2015.
If all goes well at the Safeway Open, the former world number one also plans to feature at the Turkish Airlines Open in November and the Tiger Woods Foundation-run Hero World Challenge in December.
Double major champion Kaymer, who spent eight weeks at the top of the rankings in 2011, said the American must take things step by step.
“His return is great for golf and we all look forward to welcoming him back,” added the winner of the 2010 U.S. PGA Championship and 2014 U.S. Open.
“We all know he can win tournaments the way he plays. I think it is more about the mental challenge for him over the next few months, not trying to want things too much, to be patient and calm about things.
“All the attention he will get, that will be a lot to handle, and make it very, very difficult for him to prepare. I think people shouldn’t expect him to win right away,” said Kaymer, a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, official patron and vehicle of the Ryder Cup 2016.
Woods has spent a record total of 683 weeks at the top of the rankings but, blighted by his injuries and poor form in recent years, is now down at number 726.
He missed all four majors in a calendar year for the first time this season and made just 11 tournament appearances in 2015.
Kaymer, a European wildcard pick for this month’s Ryder Cup against the United States at Chaska, Minnesota, said however that an event involving Woods always had a distinct feel to it.
“His return is great for us players because when he plays there’s a little bit of a different buzz to a tournament,” added the 31-year-old.
“We have missed him because he defined golf for the last 10 or 15 years. No one wants to see him play poorly and I think for the fans the last few tournaments for him were quite disappointing.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)