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Woods the talk of Harbour Town

The talk in Harbour Town Golf Links' locker room this week was the same as the talk in every office, pro shop or break room in America — Tiger Woods.

And Woods isn't even here this week for the WorldCom Classic.

``If there was ever a time that the players and I were going to be talking about that, it was this past Monday,'' said Stewart Cink, who will defend his WorldCom title. ``I was pretty much in awe of what happened.''

Woods won his fourth straight major, outlasting David Duval and Phil Mickelson at the Masters in one of the most captivating finishes in Grand Slam history. Woods, 25, has won five of the past six majors. Now the question seems to be not if he'll surpass Jack Nicklaus' all-time majors mark of 18, but when.

``We all kind of scoffed at'' the thought of Woods besting Nicklaus, four-time WorldCom winner Davis Love III said Wednesday. ``But when you win four in a row like that, it makes that goal seem a little more real.''

Instead of being at Harbour Town this week, Woods is playing host to a youth clinic in Long Beach, Calif., and beginning an extended vacation before preparing for the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla.

Only three of the top 14 finishers at Augusta National last week have made the trip to South Carolina's island resort where the WorldCom offers a $630,000 first prize.

``I didn't realize how much (the Masters) took out of me until I took a nap Monday afternoon and next thing I knew, it was three hours later,'' said Mark Calcavecchia, who tied for fourth last week behind Woods, Duval and Mickelson.

Calcavecchia joined the gallery at Augusta to watch Woods finish history, congratulating him warmly after his 18th-hole birdie.

``I'm not into making comparisons, but I always thought Jack Nicklaus was the greatest thinker on the golf course,'' Calcavecchia said. ``But Jack's never won four majors in a row.''

Someone asked Cink if he and the others picked the wrong time to play pro golf. Cink, who has won $436,706 in 10 events this year, laughed.

``I don't know, but these tournament purses keep going up. I think I was born at exactly the right time,'' he said.

``We're lucky to be in the sport that has the best athlete in the world,'' Love said.

Woods has raised the level of play all around, Cink said. While Woods won in blowouts at the U.S. and British Opens last year, he needed a playoff win over Bob May at the PGA Championship, then battled over Augusta's back nine with two other marquee names.

``That's why people keep watching golf even when Tiger is not playing,'' Cink said.

Woods' friendship was what helped Mark O'Meara, then 41, to a career year in 1998 with wins at the Masters and British Open, Calcavecchia said.

``Tiger getting Mark out of bed, challenging him to practice more, hit more balls,'' he said. ``If you want to compete with (Tiger) that's what you have to do.''

WorldCom officials expect a full house even without the world's No. 1 player. Besides Cink, Love and Calcavecchia, there is young Spanish star Sergio Garcia; Joe Durant, twice a champion this season; and former WorldCom winners Greg Norman and Nick Price.

Woods will return to Harbour Town someday, tournament director Steve Wilmot said. But the course probably couldn't fit that many more people on its tight layout, he said.

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