By Mark Lamport-Stokes
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Washington (Reuters) - The rapid decline of Tiger Woods' golf game has stunned his fellow players and the fans but Jason Day believes the former world number one can work his way back if he can improve his form off the tee.
Australian Day played nine holes with Woods in practice on Monday for this week's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and was hugely impressed by the quality of the American's iron play and short game.
"Tell you what, if he (Woods) could get on the fairway, he'd probably be back to where he was," Day told reporters while preparing for Thursday's opening round. "His iron play is just ridiculous how good it is right now, it's really special.
"The three-wood is okay, the driver ... gets a little wide sometimes. That's the biggest thing for him right now is to really kind of get on the fairway."
A 14-times major champion who is arguably the greatest player ever, Woods has plunged to a mind-boggling 195th in the world rankings.
The 39-year-old has been struggling with his game for most of this season, recording just one top-25 in five starts on the PGA Tour, a tie for 17th at the Masters in April.
"Who knows what's going on with Tiger right now? We're friends, but I don't get into his personal life and I don't want to," said Day. "That's his stuff and he deserves his privacy.
"But when it comes to golf, it's very difficult because you could have all the tools in the world, but if you really don't want to be there or if there's something that's off course that's playing on your mind ...
"The game of golf is so mental and if you don't have everything in the right order, it's very difficult to win golf tournaments."
Day, a three-times winner on the PGA Tour who is ranked 10th, felt that Woods had paid a price for the lofty golfing heights he scaled during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
"He's done what he's done in the past and everyone is expecting him to do that still," said the 27-year-old from Queensland.
"We're just waiting for him to come back and win those tournaments like it was nothing, hunt down people like he was playing a Wednesday tournament at the country club.
"But will we see it? I'm not sure. It just totally depends on the person, how hard he's working."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)