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2001 seasons starts for real now

Two weeks ago, a California court convicted some knucklehead named Anthony Taylor for 'stealing' Tiger Woods identity.

Evidentially, this genius took Nike's "I'm Tiger Woods" campaign to heart, forging a credit card application as the superstar and ringing up $17,000 in charges.

Nice try Einstein, but the world knows the difference between Joe Q. Public and Tiger Woods. Duh.

This week, thirty of the top golfers in the world will attempt to steal Tiger Wood's identity - or at least borrow it - at the Mercedes Championship, where Tiger seeks to kick off 2001 in grand style by capturing his third Mercedes in five years.

Although the 2001 PGA Tour season officially began last week at the Accenture World Match play in Australia, for all intents and purposes it really starts this week, as last year's Tour winners gather for the traditional season opener at Hawaii.

I mean, beginning the Tour season last week without Tiger Woods is like beginning a new presidential administration without partisan bickering - it just doesn't feel right.

No disrespect to champion Steve Stricker, who happens to be a very fine golfer and person, but a final four of Stricker, Pierre Fulke, Toru Taniguchi and Ernie Els at the Accenture Match Play is probably not how Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem envisioned the first event of the year unfolding. Although it was 'for the world', only a handful of the world's best decided to show up.

Then again, it does prove the depth of quality players when the 90th ranked player in the world can pocket a million bucks for winning six matches - you don't often see that in tennis.It also reinforces the notion that any golfer in the field is capable of winning - that is, so long as Tiger isn't teeing it up.

Some went as far as saying that the Accenture would actually be more entertaining without Tiger in the field because the result wouldn't be a foregone conclusion.Well, the outcome was in doubt, but the suspense was hardly suffocating - give us a Tiger romp over a lackluster finale any day of the week.

The Mercedes should prove neither, as the Tour's cast of superstars meets Tiger center stage in hopefully the first of many battle royals over the next ten months.Time to see whether Duval, Mickelson, Leonard, Sergio are finally up to the Tiger challenge.

We know Mickelson was on his way last year, but what about the rest of these guys?

Duval may be the biggest enigma of them all- one season he's unbeatable, and the next he's back to square one.

There's no doubt that King David has the physical gifts to compete on a level approaching Tiger's, but whether or not he has the heart or head is a different matter.This season could go a long way in answering that.

Sergio has the skills, but still needs years of maturing and fine tuning, while Leonard has plenty of guts and smarts, but not enough height and strength.

There are a bunch of Aussie youngsters waiting in the wings, but they're still light years away from putting a scare in Tiger.

Regardless of what's out there, it will be difficult - perhaps impossible - for Tiger to give an encore performance to last year's uber-season; short of winning the Grand Slam or capturing a dozen tournaments, anything less from El Tigre would seem like a letdown, fairly or unfairly.

Even for someone who has made a career of setting the bar high and then exceeding it, topping the heroics of 2000 will be daunting, plain and simple.

It may just be the case that in 2001, Tiger only has himself to compete with - namely, exceeding his own staggering accomplishments of the past 24 months. Since he has few competitors and no equals, what else can possibly motivate him at this point except the prospects of surpassing himself. Certainly no golfer can intimidate him - maybe his own record will.

If 2000 was the 'season to remember,' than what will 2001 bring us? Who knows? I can't wait to find out.

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