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Woods aiming for 3rd straight Bay Hill title

Tiger Woods is hoping home is where you hang your hat trick.

Playing in his backyard, the incomparable superstar will seek his third straight title in the Bay Hill Invitational, which begins Thursday.

Woods, who already has completed hat tricks in two other events during his career, is trying to become the first player to win the Bay Hill three straight years.

"It would be nice," said Woods, the top-ranked player in the world and Orlando resident who has 29 PGA Tour titles at the age of 26.

Loren Roberts claimed the 1994 and 1995 titles, when the tournament was known as the Nestle Invitational, but Paul Goydos ended his reign in 1996.

Most likely to end Woods' run this year are Ernie Els and the greens at the 7,239-yard Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

Els has won three straight medal events around the Match Play Championship, sandwiching a pair of European Tour victories around a PGA Tour triumph at the Genuity Championship.

"As you say, Tiger is going for his third straight win, but you can't be too concerned about that," said Els, the world's third-ranked player. "I'm just trying to play my game and hopefully be there on Sunday."

What will be there on Sunday are redesigned greens that could play havoc with the field, including Woods, who needed to birdie the 72nd hole last year to hold off World No. 2 Phil Mickelson by a shot.

Woods called the putting surfaces "a lot more difficult."

"There's no doubt about it," he said. "They are kind of the same shape, but they are breaking differently now. So now you've got to take a look at some of these putts."

Last year, Woods scrambled for birdie on the 18th hole to win his first title of the year. He drove well left, but the ball hit the neck of a spectator, giving Woods an open shot at the green. He nestled his approach within 15 feet and made the putt.

"I think getting to the point where I had a chance to win was kind of a mini-miracle in itself," Woods said. "I was not playing well Sunday. I was just kind of getting it around and chipping and putting and just kind of hanging in there."

Woods won last year's event with a four-round total of 15-under-par 273. He claimed the 2001 title with a 270, the best winning score at Bay Hill since Fred Couples' 269 in 1992.

A week before the Players Championship and a month prior to The Masters, Bay Hill features a star-studded field and a famous teenager.

Mickelson is back and will vie for Woods' title with British Open champion David Duval, Spanish star Sergio Garcia, Fiji's Vijay Singh, U.S. Open champ Retief Goosen of South Africa and Davis Love III.

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