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Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Rainy course favors long-hitting Tiger

April 9, 2003

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— Some things about the Masters never change.

As usual, Tiger Woods was first off the tee Tuesday morning when the rain relented at Augusta National, the first time he has played the course since he walked away last April wearing his green jacket.

And just like always, the question is not so much whether he can win another Masters, but whether anyone can stop him.

"I guess I'm still the favorite," Woods said with a wide smile.

The odds are even better, considering the circumstances.

Heavy rains have pounded Augusta National since Sunday, conditions similar to last year when Woods walked through muddy fairways and walked over his competition to win by three shots.

Woods also is faced with the kind of challenge on which he thrives: making history.

No one ever has won the Masters three years in a row, and only two other players -- Jack Nicklaus (1965-66) and Nick Faldo (1989-90) -- even had a chance.

"I think it would be huge to win three Masters," Woods said. "No one has ever done it before. And I've been able to do certain things in golf that no one has ever done before. If you're ever in that position, you want to take advantage of it, because it doesn't happen all the time."

It seems to happen to Woods quite often.

The last time he was in this position was two years ago at the Masters, when Woods was trying to become the first player in history to hold the four professional majors at the same time. He turned back his top two rivals and won two.

He had a chance to become the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24 in the 2000 British Open. He won by eight.

Trying to become the only man to win three straight U.S. Amateur titles, Woods rallied from five down after the morning round to win on the 38th hole.

Tiger Woods, right, listens to Mark O'Meara on the 7th hole at the
Augusta National Golf Club. The two played a practice round Tuesday
to prepare for the 2003 Masters, which begins Thursday in Augusta,
Ga.

Tiger Woods, right, listens to Mark O'Meara on the 7th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club. The two played a practice round Tuesday to prepare for the 2003 Masters, which begins Thursday in Augusta, Ga.

"He's attempting to do something that's never been done, but that's never stopped him before," Phil Mickelson said. "In fact, it's been a motivating factor, to do things that have never been done. So, I would be surprised if he played less than his best."

Mickelson is trying to do something he has never been before -- win a major.

Some wonder whether this might be as good a chance as any because the attention has shifted elsewhere -- to Woods and his pursuit of history, to Ernie Els and his hot start to the year, to Davis Love III and his overwhelming victory at The Players Championship.

"The winner the last two years didn't slip in under the radar by any means," Mickelson said. "He played pretty well."

The focus also shifted off the course -- specifically, to a 5.1-acre lot about a half-mile away where Martha Burk's National Council of Women's Organizations plans to protest Saturday against the all-male membership at Augusta National.

Woods joked in the weeks leading up to the Masters that he would need a parachute to get to Augusta National to avoid the controversy.

It followed him into the course Tuesday, although Woods wanted nothing to do with it.

He was asked about a commercial he did for Nike in 1997, when he said there were some golf courses he still could not play. Asked if he was as passionate about the issue, Woods stared back and said, "I am."

Told that didn't appear to be the case, Woods replied, "That's just your opinion."

The exchange was cool, and Woods steered clear of the dialogue until he was asked whether he would categorize women not being allowed to join a golf club as prejudice against minorities.

"Everyone here knows my opinion," he said. "Should they be members? Yes. But I don't really have a vote in how they run this golf course, and this club. Even Jack and Arnie (Palmer), being members, I don't think they have as much say around here as people think."

Meanwhile, Burk criticized a judge whose ruling kept her group from protesting at the front gate of Augusta National, saying "party revelers are taking precedence over legitimate protesters."

"I didn't think they would be so blatant acting in the club's interest and not the public interest," Burk said.

Sergio Garcia, left, yuks it up with amateur Alejandro Larrazabal
on the 16th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. The two practiced
Tuesday in Augusta, Ga., before Thursday's first round of the
Masters.

Sergio Garcia, left, yuks it up with amateur Alejandro Larrazabal on the 16th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. The two practiced Tuesday in Augusta, Ga., before Thursday's first round of the Masters.

Inside the gates, the interest was strictly on the Masters -- and the weather.

It already has been a strange start to the week. More overnight rain and intermittent showers Tuesday limited practice for some players to only nine holes, and still more rain in the forecast for today.

Crews were spreading pebbles and sand along slopes to keep fans from falling, and players were bracing for a course that will seem even longer.

"This golf course is going to play 7,600 yards," Els said.

Sergio Garcia hit a driver and a 2-iron in the 18th, compared with an 8-iron when he played a practice round last Thursday.

"There's no doubt for the longer hitters it's going to be a little less difficult," Garcia said.

Woods falls into that category, although length isn't his only advantage. Woods also carries the experience of having won three green jackets, including the last two.

"You never what's going to happen," Garcia said. "If he plays well, of course, there's no doubt he's going to be up there."

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