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Tiger Woods takes aim at third Western title

Even Tiger Woods needs some time off once in awhile.

After two straight finishes out of the top 10 -- that practically counts as a slump when you're talking about the world's No. 1 golfer -- Woods stashed his clubs, grabbed a couple of buddies and headed to Alaska to go fishing.

``I really needed to get away because I've played golf a lot,'' he said Wednesday. ``My weeks off, I didn't really take a whole lot of time off because I was practicing, getting ready for the (U.S.) Open. So it was nice to get away, put the clubs down and just get away for a little bit.''

Refreshed and relaxed, he's ready to get back to work this week. And he's playing in one of his favorite tournaments, the Western Open.

Woods has quite a history here, particularly in odd-numbered years. He made his first cut in a PGA Tour event here in 1995 and then won the tournament in 1997 and 1999. He also broke 70 as a pro for the first time in the fourth round in 1995.

``That's where I felt was a turning point in my amateur career,'' he said. ``I felt like, `Yeah, I can really play with these guys.'''

He's done more than that. With a victory at the Masters in April, Woods held all four major championships for a Grand Slam.

But talk of Woods sweeping the majors in the same calendar year came to a sudden halt at the U.S. Open, where he finished tied for 12th. He struggled again the next week at the Buick Classic, where he finished 12 strokes back in a tie for 16th.

It was his lowest finish in 23 events, and the first time since 1999 that he finished out of the top 10 in consecutive weeks.

``It wasn't necessarily the energy, it was that I wasn't swinging well,'' Woods said. ``You can have all the energy in the world, but if you're not swinging well, you're not swinging well.''

His putting was fine, Woods said. It was his drives and iron shots that were the problem.

``At the U.S. Open, if I didn't putt, I would have been further down the road,'' he said. ``I made at least eight or 10 putts from 12 feet and in every day. I poured them in like they were going out of style.

``Unfortunately, they were for pars. I wasn't in a position to make birdies,'' he added. ``I wasn't able to hit the ball close enough.''

So he put his clubs away after the Buick Classic and didn't touch them again for six days. He and three friends went on a five-day fishing trip, with golf the furthest thing from his mind.

Of course, he had a few other things to worry about. Like the bears rambling around the river where he was fishing.

Woods finally picked up his clubs again Sunday, when he did a children's clinic in Rockford. He's spent the past few days practicing, and his swing is finally coming around.

``I've been practicing a little bit the last few days and hitting it a little more crisp,'' he said. ``It was nice to get back out here and walk the course.''

Woods wasn't the only one who needed some time off after the U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson skipped the Buick Classic after shooting a final-round 75 at the U.S. Open, the latest in a series of big-tournament fades.

Mickelson didn't touch his clubs, either, instead pulling out his old psychology notebooks and practicing some visualization techniques. The homework helped, as he won the Greater Hartford Open last weekend.

``I don't think it's really squelched talk. I think it's postponed it for a week or two,'' Mickelson said of his failure to win a major. ``What I need to do really is to come through in a major championship, and I realize that.

''... I feel as though I keep getting closer. Last week certainly helped for me personally, because it gave me a direction on how to prepare mentally andhow to perform during the round mentally for me to play my best golf.''

Divots

David Berganio Jr. withdrew Wednesday. Hunter Haas will take his place. ... The Western Open, sponsored by Advil, has a record $3.6 million purse, with the winner earning $648,000. ... Some changes have been made to Cog Hill's Dubsdread Course. A new No. 2, which plays about 22 yards shorter, is being used, and the par-4 13th has been lengthened. The par-5 15th can also play 10 yards longer. ``I thought 13 was long enough already,'' 1998 championJoe Durant said. ``It was for me, anyway.''

 


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