Woods enjoys playing quiet practice rounds

Updated: October 17, 2002, 12:51 PM ET
Associated Press

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tiger Woods hopped out of his cart and walked briskly to the first tee on the Magnolia course, dew still covering the grass.

Within seconds, a tee was in the ground, the driver was in his hand and the ball disappeared into the darkness.

Home cooking
Since turning pro in 1996, Tiger Woods has five wins in 12 Tour events in Florida, his adopted home state.

"I've always played well here and it's always fun anytime you get to play in your hometown, sleep in your own bed, use your own remote control," Woods said. "Everything's nice when you get to play here."

Besides his wins at Disney in 1996 and '99, he's won the Bay Hill Invitational the last three years.

This will be Woods' first appearance since competing in the Ryder Cup last month, and Woods has reveled in the time off.

"I haven't done anything. It's been great, chilling out and doing nothing. It's fun to have a chance to do just that," Woods said. "We travel so much, play all around the world, we don't get a chance to do that enough."

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The last time Woods played a pre-dawn practice round was at the Ryder Cup, and he was roasted by the British press for not being a team player and for depriving thousands of fans a chance to watch him play.

There were no such complaints Wednesday morning at the Disney World Golf Classic.

Then again, there were no fans.

Because of security issues at Disney, and because there has been so little interest in practice rounds, spectators aren't allowed on the course until the tournament begins Thursday.

That was fine with Woods.

"I'm able to play in peace and not be hounded for autographs and pictures when I'm getting ready to play a tournament,'' he said. "When people are throwing things at you to sign between green and tee, that's not a relaxing environment.''

Woods returns to the PGA Tour for the first time since going 2-2-1 in the Ryder Cup and being on the losing team for the second time in three tries.

The Disney field includes nine of his Ryder Cup teammates, all but Phil Mickelson and Mark Calcavecchia. The stakes aren't all that high, at least not for Woods.

He already has secured his fourth straight PGA Tour money title. Even if he wins his final two tournaments, he can't match his best season, when he won nine tour events and earned more than $9 million.

Someone pointed out to Woods that he can at least join Jack Nicklaus as the only three-time winners at Disney.

"I'd like to win, whether it's joining him or not,'' Woods said.

During his two-week break after the Ryder Cup, Woods had a little time to take stock of another season that would be considered great for anyone but him.

He won the first two majors of the year, the first time anyone has done that since Nicklaus also won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1972. Woods won a World Golf Championship and two other titles (Bay Hill, Buick Open).

Plus, there was only one mention of a slump.

After not cracking the top 10 in his first two tournaments, nearly missing the cut in San Diego -- were he wound up tied for fifth -- and being eliminated in the first round of the Match Play Championship, Woods has been steady. At times, he has been spectacular.

Dating to Doral in the first week of March, he has finished lower than fourth only three times -- The Players Championship (tie for 14th), the Memorial (tie for 22nd) and the British Open, where he shot 81 in a cold, hard wind and wound up in a tie for 28th.

"In eight months, that's pretty good playing,'' Woods said.

He has won Disney twice, as a rookie in 1996 in only his seventh tournament as a pro, and in 1999 when he closed out the season with four straight victories.

Others in the field are looking for their first victory of the year. They includes David Toms, Davis Love III and David Duval, who needs to finish first and second the next two weeks for any chance of getting into the Tour Championship.

While those three proven players have not won this year, there have been 15 first-time champions, a tour record.

"The tour is getting deeper,'' Woods said. "There are more players who are better. If you look at it from that perspective, that explains why those three haven't won.''

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press