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Westwood looking forward to Woods challenge

It was easy a year ago to find European golfers resentful of the attention lavished onTiger Woods.

Things are different this year, as Woods prepares for the Deutsche-Bank SAP Open, where he lost last year to England's Lee Westwood in a rare final-round collapse.

Westwood is more than happy to see Woods this time.

"We obviously don't like any Americans coming over and making it look easy,'' Westwood said. "But only speaking for myself, I'd like to play against him every week -- it would certainly improve my game very quickly.

"We're lucky to have him here.''

Woods will be the standard every one has to match and the overwhelming favorite at the St. Leon-Rot course, which is flat and long with narrow fairways and thick rough.

"I think it's a tough course, ideal for a long hitter like Tiger,'' Germany's Bernhard Langer said.

Last year, when the event was held at the easier Gut Kaden club near Hamburg, Westwood fired a final-round 64 to win. Woods threw away a third-round lead with the help of a double bogey on the 11th hole -- at the time, just the second occasion in his career that he failed to win a tournament that he led after 54 holes.

Westwood, Europe's top golfer last season, rates that victory as one of the three most significant of his career -- chiefly because it came against Woods.

"I think it was the best win of last year -- when he's in contention as well and you shoot a 64, that's special,'' Westwood said.

Westwood, 27, broke out of his worst career slump last year with the title and went on to win the Volvo Order of Merit as Europe's top money earner.

This year, he's in a similar situation, skipping numerous events while complaining of burnout. He also missed The Masters to be with his wife, who gave birth to a boy -- their first child. He's played only two events since.

"I think the more I'm playing, the better it's getting,'' Westwood said. "I am the type of player who needs to play a lot to play well and I've hardly played this year.''

The field includes five of the world's top 10 players, including two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa.

Els is focused on winning another major after finishing second in three Grand Slam events last year. But that means, like everyone else, he's going to have to improve his game to catch Woods.

"I think the level of play has improved dramatically the last couple of years,'' he said. "It's going to take a big effort to win one of those things. You can't leave any shots out there.''

Els will be playing for the first time with a "hot driver,'' a club with a thin face that has a spring-like effect and add distance to drives. They're banned in the United States but allowed in Europe.

Woods, playing a pro-am today with tennis star Boris Becker as his partner, said he had tried the club, but said he breaks the thin face with the speed of his swing.

"It wouldn't be good out there if I caved in a driver playing a tournament,'' he said.

 

 


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