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Woods enjoys playing quiet practice rounds

10/17/2002

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.

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.''