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Woods aiming for 4th straight Bay Hill title

Tomorrow morning at 8, Tiger Woods will start the first of two numerical challenges this year.

This week, it's his quest to win the Bay Hill Invitational for the fourth consecutive year. Next month, he'll need to win an unprecedented third straight Masters to overshadow the circus that's sure to occur with the myriad of protestors planning to march at the season's first major tournament.

It appears the world's top-ranked player is ready for the first challenge. In fact, because of his recovery from off-season knee surgery, he's better prepared physically than he's been in two years.

``I've done it three different ways,'' he said, referring to the methods he used to capture the last three events at Bay Hill. ``The first year I won, I hit the ball pretty good. The second year, I slopped it all over the place and made absolutely everything. Last year I plodded my way along and just played real smart. I didn't do anything great and I just plodded my way along. It makes you feel pretty good that you've done it different ways.

``It's not like I've come out here three straight years hitting everything absolutely perfectly for 12 straight rounds. I've made my share of mistakes and still been able to win. That definitely brings confidence, even if you're playing well or playing bad, you still have a pretty good feeling.''

With his knee recovered from surgery, Woods now can say the words PGA Tour pros fear the most.

``Having it repaired now is making me a better golfer because I'll be able to make the move I know I can make,'' said Woods. ``It's very similar to how I played in 2000 and most of 2001. I'm able to make that type of move again.''

Woods is probably the only golfer on earth who can say that about the year he had in 2002, which included seven wins world-wide (five on the PGA Tour), the Masters and U.S. Open titles and a PGA Tour money list-leading $6,912,625 was a bit lucky.

``Last year,'' he said, ``a lot of it was done by smoke and mirrors. I chipped the ball great and putted good. I wasn't able to play my game. I had to hit a lot of 3-woods and 2-irons (off the tee) and stuff like that to get the ball in play because I wasn't physically able to swing a driver. That's frustrating, knowing that I have the ability to get the ball out there far enough to have an advantage on the golf course and now I've got to come back and play even shorter than most of the guys do on Tour.

``I didn't like it very much. I certainly enjoy being able to make a move at it again like I used to.''

At Bay Hill, Woods will try to become the first PGA Tour player in the modern era to win the same event four consecutive times. He would be the first in 73 years and third overall since Gene Sarazen won the Miami Open in 1926 and 1928-30 (there was no tourney in 1927). Walter Hagen won the PGA Championship from 1924-1927.

 

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