Saturday, December 20

Tiger not unbeatable at Sawgrass
By Andy North


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Sure, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson won't be around this week and Tiger Woods is coming in having won three of his first four tournaments, but don't hand him the Players Championship title just yet.

Craig Perks
Anything can happen at the Players Championship, as Craig Perks proved last year.

The TPC at Sawgrass is a course he can be beaten on.

Unlike Bay Hill and Augusta, where if Tiger brings his "A" game he's very likely going to win, the Stadium Course is a track where Woods can play well and still not come out on top.

You can get some funny bounces here. You can hit a ball that just misses the green and ends up trickling down into a bank or worse, and you end up struggling just to get up and down. It's a tough course to put together a good stretch because one bad shot on any single hole can kill you.

I think this is a course where you have to drive the ball in the fairway, which Tiger is doing better this year than he has in the past. A lot of that improvement can be credited to his healthy knee.

Still, Woods can be beaten here -- and he has been two of the last three years.

Woods has entered the Players each of the last three seasons playing great and coming off victories at the Bay Hill Invitational, which he won for the fourth straight time last week. His finishes at the Players in that span have been second, first and 14the in 2002. If he plays like he did last year, there are some guys that can beat him this week.

Would I want to bet on anyone else? No.

If you look at the players who've won here, you'll find a lot of good ball strikers. Jerry Pate was one of the best ball strikers at the time when he won here in 1982. Calvin Peete ('85) and Greg Norman ('94) fit that profile, and Steve Elkington ('91) has always been a classic ball striker.

I think the player that's going to win will be the guy who can hit a lot of greens and keep the pressure off of himself by keeping the mistakes to a minimum.

Does that mean Tiger won't be that player? No, because he can do all those things too, as we saw last week when he played his last 44 holes without a bogey at Bay Hill.

I think you'll find the winner will be the guy who hits a lot of solid shots, keeps his patience and doesn't get frustrated when he hits one that doesn't go the way he wants it to.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North is a golf analyst for ESPN, and will be covering the Players Championship all week.





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