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Archive for Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Woods thrives by playing fewer PGA events

October 22, 2003

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— Tiger Woods has a lot riding on the Funai Classic at Disney, although it was hard to tell judging by the guy handing him wedges and raking bunkers during a practice round Tuesday.

Woods can tie one of the oldest records in golf -- 113 consecutive cuts by Byron Nelson in the 1940s -- if he can make it to the weekend. Considering his next two tournaments don't have cuts, he would be assured of setting the record.

Also at stake is a chance for Woods to win an unprecedented fifth straight PGA Tour money title. He has a $171,239 lead over Vijay Singh, but the big Fijian plans to play in one more tournament than Woods the rest of the way.

This is no time for Woods to slack off.

So what did he do?

Woods gave his caddie, Steve Williams, the week off so he could stay in New Zealand and race cars.

Filling in for Williams is Bryon Bell, a good friend dating to junior high school who now works for the Tiger Woods Foundation.

"I've had Bryon caddie for me before," Woods said. "Jerry Chang caddied for me here. It's more of a fun week. The only difference is you have to shoot 6 under to make the cut."

The last time Bell caddied for Woods was at the 2000 Buick Invitational. That was another big week, as Woods had the longest PGA Tour winning streak in 52 years. Going for his seventh win in a row, he finished runner-up to Phil Mickelson.

Still, it seems like an odd time for his caddie to take a working vacation.

But then, Woods marches to his own beat.

Never mind that Singh already has played eight more times this year. Woods made it clear after the first round of the American Express Championship in Atlanta earlier this month that he would not add another tournament for the sake of winning the money title.

Then, he went out and won his second World Golf Championship of the year to reclaim the No. 1 spot on the money list.

"That was a big win," Woods said. "It's always about the quality of wins, anyway."

Woods will play only 18 times on the PGA Tour this year. Of the top 10 players in the world ranking, only Ernie Els plays less (by one tournament). And the Big Easy complements that with a full international schedule.

Truth is, Woods would like to cut back even more.

"Fifteen tournaments. That would be perfect," Woods chirped as he zipped along in his cart during a practice round that lasted just under three hours.

Some believe Woods doesn't play enough.

This is the first time since 1999 that he hasn't sewn up the money title by the end of the majors, and one can only imagine how much he could have won playing more tournaments.

Woods is averaging about $391,000 per start. If he made that much and played Singh's schedule, he already would have about $9.4 million.

Or maybe he would have missed a cut along the way.

"I learned my lesson in 1997," Woods said. "I played too much too early for me, and I was fried."

He played a dozen times before the U.S. Open in 1997. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but he missed the cut in the Canadian Open at Royal Montreal later that year for the first and only time in his PGA Tour career.

"I wish I could play less," Woods said. "It's too much of a grind. The whole atmosphere wears you out. Once you get to a tournament site, I have to deal with a lot more than most of the pros. Most guys can play like I did today, and get some work done."

Woods says his goal is to win every time he tees it up, and he makes sure he's ready.

Earlier this month at the American Express Championship, two caddies were in the hotel bar talking about how their guys -- both among the top 15 in the world -- were playing too many tournaments to reach their full potential.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Woods.

"He plays just the right amount of tournaments," one of the caddies said. "When he takes a break, he still has an itch to play. But when he comes back, he's hungrier than ever."

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