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Tiger won't go back to former coach

| Wednesday, March 24, 2004

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- It's almost impossible to enter the week of golf's near-major without a Tiger Woods subplot of some sort.

A few years ago, it revolved around the intimidation edge Woods seemed to have on his colleagues. Last year, he was a can't-miss, sure bet to win based on the hot streak he rode into the TPC at Sawgrass for the 2003 Players Championship.

This year, it's Tiger's slump. Woods hasn't won since the end of February when he outlasted Davis Love III in the Match Play Championship, and the critics are starting to call for Woods to go back to his former swing guru, Butch Harmon.

Woods and Harmon severed their player/coach relationship a couple years ago, though both have said they remain friends. Harmon said Sunday night on the Golf Channel that "I'm only a phone call away," if Tiger needed help.

And it didn't take long Tuesday morning, after Woods had been presented the Byron Nelson Award for lowest scoring average last year and the Jack Nicklaus Trophy for being named Player of the Year for the fifth time, that the questioning headed in the Harmon direction.

"Butch and I are still friends," Woods said. "I still talk to him when he's out here, when I'm out here. As far as asking for help on my golf swing, no. But friendship-wise, yes, Butch will always be my friend. And hopefully, I'll always be his.

"He's meant a lot to me as a person, forget about golf. Yeah, we know what he's done for me golf-wise. But as a person growing up, he helped me, took me under his wing, and other young kids, but basically showed me life on Tour, kind of led me in the right direction with guys out on Tour."

Woods has played in five events this year on Tour, winning one and finishing in the top 10 in three others before stumbling to a tie for 31st last week in the Bay Hill Invitational. He's won $1,743,850, good for fifth on the money list.

"Every player has their hot streaks, has their lows," Woods said. "Last week was one of those times I didn't play well. That happens. And it just happened to be at a golf course that I've had some success at. and I think it was blown up because of that."

This is another venue where Woods has had success as well. In his last five starts at Sawgrass, he has a win (2001), a second (2000) and three other top 15 finishes.

"It's the best players in the world," Woods said. "It's the strongest field we play all year. Because of that, you have more players who can win the tournament."

Woods smiled broadly when a question was put to him, concerning the Sunnehanna Amateur, the elite national amateur event held at Sunnehanna Country Club near Johnstown.

"That was my first amateur tournament, and it was a very big tournament for me," Woods said. "It's obviously one of the biggest tournaments in amateur golf."

Notes: Greensburg's Rocco Mediate withdrew from this week's Players Championship, as he continues to suffer from the back spasms and pain that forced him out of the Bay Hill Invitational last week. ... Defending U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk is out of action for an extended period of time, perhaps until the U.S. Open, because of a wrist injury.

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