Tiger Woods: Golfer compares himself to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

    Story highlights

    • Tiger Woods says he changed the face of golf
    • He was the first player to lift weights and train
    • Compares himself to Messi and Ronaldo
    • Worried about lack the of people playing golf

    (CNN)Given he hasn't won a major since 2008, it's sometimes easy to forget the impact Tiger Woods had on the game of golf.

    But the 14-time major winner certainly hasn't forgotten and is proud of how his sport has changed since he burst onto the professional circuit in August 1996.
      Woods was promptly named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year and won his first major -- the Masters in April 1997 -- becoming the youngest player in history to do so.
      By June that year, he had completed the fastest ever rise to world No. 1.
      "I don't think we're necessarily bigger than the sport," Woods responded when asked why athletes such as himself, Diego Maradona and Michael Jordan transcend their respective disciplines.
      "I think it's just we've had so much success in the sport and I think it's in the way we've done it."
      And Woods sees similarities between the effect Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are having on football and how he changed golf.
      "What Messi and Ronaldo are doing in soccer now is just phenomenal -- but in two different ways," explained the 39-year-old. "Two different ways of doing it, right?
      "And then you have (Michael) Jordan coming into the league (NBA), he did it completely differently to anybody else."
      Woods believes he forged his own path in golf, focusing on athleticism like no player had done before.
      "When I came into golf, I did it differently because no one had ever trained, no one ever lifted weights, no one ever ran miles, no one ever did wind sprints," he recalled.
      "No one ever did any of those things in golf and I had success doing it differently. And I think that's what people sometimes see and have gravitated towards."
      Woods has not won a PGA Tour title since 2013 -- and is now experiencing a taste of what it's like to be a golfer at the less glamorous end of the rankings.
      He recently underwent a third operation to fix nerve trouble in his back and was in a downbeat mood during a recent press conference, claiming he currently has "nothing to look forward to."
      Yet, despite his downturn in form, Woods says his enjoyment of golf isn't waning.
      "I love golf and there are times when I know that golf does not love me," the world No. 411 told CNN Deportes. "When I hit that shot and I think that it's perfect and it ends up in a bunker.
      "Or it gets that bad bounce and it ends up in the water. The golfing gods, they can turn on you pretty quickly. But, I think we all as individuals just really enjoy the sport because it is up to us.
      "The ball is not moving, it's not a reactionary sport. It's just looking right at you and laughing at you and says there's a little hole somewhere down there, go put it in there and it's up to you to do it."
      Despite the lack of form and titles, Woods is still the face of golf in the U.S.
      In a recent study, the 14-time major winner was recognized by 97% of Americans. To put that figure into perspective, out of the current world top 10 Rory McIlroy had the highest U.S. awareness at 42%.
      Woods says the fame -- being the sport star even the President of the United States wants a photo with -- isn't something he initially got into golf for and he misses his college playing days when he was just another face on campus.
      "That part is not why I turned pro and it's not why I started the game," he says with a laugh. "It's a byproduct and I really enjoy anonymity and I really enjoyed my time at Stanford when I was there.
      "You have all these amazing people who are part of the culture of Stanford. But the anonymity of everyone, we enjoy that. Once you enter the workforce and go beyond that you realize Stanford was like a utopia.
      "Times have changed so much in such a short span of time -- I've been on tour for 20 years now -- that everything is so instant. Basically everyone now who has a smartphone is media."
      The headlines haven't always been positive, however, with Woods' infidelity while married to Elin Nordegren well publicized.
      In a recent interview with TIME Magazine, the golfer revealed he explained to his children why their parents are no long living together, as he didn't want them hearing it from somewhere else once they had grown up.
      "In hindsight, it's not how I would change 2009 and how it all came about," Woods replied when asked if he would have done anything differently.
      "It would be having a more open, honest relationship with my ex-wife. Having the relationship that I have now with her is fantastic. She's one of my best friends.
      "We're able to pick up the phone, and we talk to each other all the time. We both know that the most important things in our lives are our kids. I wish I would have known that back then.
      "I've taken the initiative with the kids, and told them up front, 'Guys, the reason why we're not in the same house, why we don't live under the same roof, Mommy and Daddy, is because Daddy made some mistakes.'
      "I just want them to understand before they get to Internet age and they log on to something or have their friends tell them something. I want it to come from me so that when they come of age, I'll just tell them the real story."
      Woods' fading dominance in the game has allowed a new generation of golfers to prosper. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are now regularly competing with each other to secure major titles.
      However, Woods is concerned that certain obstacles in the sport are allowing fewer and fewer people to pick up golf clubs each year.
      "In general it's hard (to play golf) because of affordability," Woods added. "Finding places that you can play and the affordability of golf is so much more costly than any other sport.
      "That's why we have all the complications that we have in our sport.
      "Why isn't our sport growing? We're growing visibility wise, there are more people watching golf but the participation isn't the same."