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Woods looking ahead

| Tuesday, March 5, 2002

It's still a little over a month from this year's version of the last major championship Tiger Woods mastered (no pun intended).

Even that far away, however, you know he's thinking about the trip to Augusta, Ga. for the Masters. The guy is so major-oriented he thinks about shots at those courses in the middle of other tournaments, even when he's in contention.

And as he begins preparing for the trip down Magnolia Drive, Woods always puts the Players Championship into his work schedule. As he was told Monday during a teleconference with golf writers across the country, only four champions of the Players do not have major championships on their resumes.

"It takes that type of player to win there (the TPC at Sawgrass)," Woods said. "It's not like playing Augusta because there are so many places where they can put pins here. And unlike Augusta, there are a lot of greens that have spots you absolutely have to hit to and places you absolutely can't hit to. It takes a little while to learn this course."

Like every place else he plays, Woods has became a major factor at the Players, improving his position each year until finally winning the almost-major a year ago, outdueling Vijay Singh over the last few holes of a Monday finish. He'll be gunning for a repeat performance in two weeks, when the PGA Tour's strongest field of the season gathers in Ponte Vedra Beach to test its skills on the diabolical Pete Dye design.

"Last year was a fun little battle with Jerry Kelly (who led for most of the first and second days), Vijay and I had," Woods said. "Vijay made a great run. I was very fortunate to hit a few good shots and hold him off. It was a very exciting win, and I'm very proud to be associated with the great champions of this event."

Woods, who won the first of his two U.S. Amateur championships on the Sawgrass course, says it's not a coincidence that elite players have traditionally won the Players.

"The fact that you get all the top players there, generally you'll find somebody coming down the stretch playing well and generally those guys have won majors and know how to handle the stress," he said. "And so much drama that can happen on the last three holes because of the water that's involved on those holes."

Woods, ranked 10th on the PGA Tour money list this week, finished second Sunday behind Ernie Els at the Genuity Championship. He shot the best round of the day and made a run at Els but couldn't quite catch him.

"I feel very pleased with progress I'm making with my game," he said.

A scary thought for the rest of the best players in the world who also make a living trying to win golf tournaments.

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