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Tiger Woods returns to action at Disney

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 Golf Classic.

Then again, there were no fans.

Because of security issues at Disney, 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.

Woods 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 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 event and two other titles (Bay Hill Invitational, 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 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, Woods has been steady. At times, he has been spectacular.

Dating to the Genuity Championship in the first week of March, he has finished lower than fourth only three times -- THE Players Championship (tie for 14th), the Memorial Tournament (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 include 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."

The Tournament is a change of pace for most Tour players because they bring their families. Instead of hitting balls after they play, many will head to the amusement park with their children. A father-son/daughter event is one of the highlights for the players.


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