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Woods focused on chance at history

| Wednesday, April 9, 2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- This just in ...

Tiger Woods is good.

The man is at the center of the figurative storm that surrounds the Augusta National Club this week. He's trying to become the first player to win the Masters three straight years and, as the top-ranked player in the world, is the focal point of a great deal of scrutiny and questioning concerning membership policies at Augusta National.

He'll get his chance to prove his prowess on the course Thursday morning when the tournament actually begins and his hunt for a hat trick of green jackets begins.

He's had his chance, well, make that, he's been asked repeatedly for the last year to take a stance on the social issue that Martha Burk has made her cause. But proving just how good he really is, off the course as well, Woods has steadfastly kept his distance from that issue.

"I've answered that question many times prior to this event and right now, I'm just trying to get myself ready to play Thursday," Woods said Tuesday after his practice round at Augusta National. Everyone here knows my opinion. Should they (women) become members• Or should they be members• Yes. But you know, I'm ... I don't really have a vote in how they run this golf course and this club."

Protests are scheduled for Saturday in the general vicinity of the club but Woods, like most of the other players here this week, has been very careful to not say too much about the controversy that swirls more fiercely than the winds around Amen Corner.

Proving once again just how good he is, Woods said he's spent much less time watching television reports about Burk and the membership policy and more toward what's going on halfway around the world.

"I think we have a lot more important things going on, too, in our country, in our affairs right now, world affairs," Woods said. "I haven't -- I'll be honest with you -- I haven't really been reading any of the papers or reading anything about this event or watching it on TV. I've been glued to what's been going on overseas. The last couple weeks, I've seen a lot of that."

Chalk that up to growing up in a home that had a military background. Or chalk it up to the mental sharpness and intelligence to know when and how to say the right things.

"I think this sort of thing (taking a public stand on issues) is up to each individual," he said. "Certain athletes have their causes, whether it's whatever it may be and they're very outspoken on that. And that's their prerogative. We don't ask every single person to be outspoken on every single issue.

"And sometimes, just because a person is in the lime light, people have this need for them to have a voice and an opinion and a "where you stand" on certain issues.

"And some people just choose not to."

And, to the dismay of some, Woods is part of the latter group. But there is a very select group Woods would like to join: that group of one (him) should he win his third straight Masters title.

"I really would like to win this week," he said. "And I think it would be huge to win three Masters. I've been able to do certain things in golf that no one's 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. I was in that position to win the Juniors, to win the Amateurs and now, hopefully, I can win three straight Masters."

With conditions on this storied layout being as soggy and soft as they ever have been, Woods -- who was a strong favorite coming into tournament week -- has become even more so.

His length off the tee, his ability to hit high, long iron shots to precise areas on greens will be magnified in importance since there will be very few instances of players getting roll in the fairway and missed iron shot approaches turning out good.

"I guess I'm still the favorite," Woods laughed when asked about the conditions. "You know, it's rained in every single event I've played in this year. Maybe I shouldn't play, huh?"

Wishful thinking, no doubt, on the part of the rest of the field. But it's going to take more than five days of rain and a sloppy golf course to keep Woods from his quest for history.

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