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Woods focused on claiming Buick title

Tiger Woods isn't wasting time thinking about the U.S. Open.

He's too busy trying to win the Buick Classic.

"You hit a bad shot, you have to get over it right there and then so you can get focused on the next one," Woods said Wednesday before an abbreviated pro-am round at rainy Westchester Country Club. "I had to get over this U.S. Open pretty quickly so I could be focused and ready for this tournament."

After winning three of his first four events following offseason knee surgery, Woods arrived at the Buick Classic with only seven sub-70 rounds in his last five tournaments. The eight-time major champion tied for 20th last week at Olympia Fields, closing with rounds of 75 and 72 to finish 11 strokes behind winner Jim Furyk.

"I sat back Sunday night and took a hard look at some of the things I did wrong and some of the things I did right and tried to learn," said Woods, winless in the last four major championships after winning seven of the previous 11.

He again bristled at talk of a slump.

"People just don't understand. I've won three times this year," Woods said. "I don't know what everyone's need is for categorizing everything. If I go out and win a couple of tournaments, all of a sudden, I'm playing great, I'm unstoppable. And if I don't win two weeks in a row, then all of a sudden, I'm in a slump again."

The Buick endorser has struggled in the Westchester event, one of only five tournaments he has played more than once without winning. He missed the cut on the hilly, tree-lined course as an 18-year-old amateur in 1994, tied for 43rd in 1997 and tied for 16th in 2001 - 12 strokes behind winner Sergio Garcia.

"I haven't played here 20 years in a row and never won," Woods said. "This is only my third time here as a pro."

He played nine holes in the rain-delayed pro-am, shooting a 1-under 35 on the front nine in his only on-course preparation before the start of play Thursday.

The knee injury also has cut into his practice time.

"I don't hit as many balls as I used to, but I'm more focused now because I have to be," he said. "It's more quality versus quantity. I can't stand out there on the range like Vijay (Singh) and hit balls until it's dark."

Two-time winners Singh (1993, '95) and Ernie Els (1996-97) also are in the strong field along with Furyk, Garcia, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, David Toms, Rich Beem, Retief Goosen and defending champion Chris Smith.

Els shot a 1-under 34 on the back nine Wednesday.

"If you go in the rough, you could lose your ball, it's so thick," the two-time U.S. Open champion said. "It's almost twice as long as last week."

Furyk is trying to join Hale Irwin (1990) and Els (1997) as the only players to follow a U.S. Open victory with a win at Westchester.

"I always thought I could win a major championship and that I had the game to do it," Furyk said. "Now I've proven it to myself. I think that's a boost of confidence."

Smith, slowed by back problems this season, held off David Gossett, Loren Roberts and Pat Perez by two strokes last year for his first tour title.

"It's been kind of a rough year for me, so it's nice to come back to friendly surroundings," Smith said. "This course makes you hit a lot of different shots. It's not just a course where you stand on the tee and hit it as hard as you can."

Divots: Woods has won Buick's other two tour events, the Buick Open in Michigan in August and Buick Invitational in February in San Diego - his first start after knee surgery. Woods, also winless in multiple starts in the International, Nissan Open, Ford Championship at Doral and Phoenix Open, will play the first two rounds with Scott Hoch and Steve Flesch, starting at 12:50 p.m. Thursday and 7:50 a.m. Friday. ... D.J. Trahan, making his second pro start since leading Clemson to the NCAA title, will play with 19-year-old Ty Tryon and former Stanford star Joel Kribel. Trahan missed the cut two weeks ago in the FBR Capital Open.


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