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Tiger shakes off talk of slump

When Tiger Woods used to show up at a golf tournament, he was considered the player to beat. Now, he's simply regarded as beatable.

"Until he gets on top of his game, and everybody realizes he's playing his best, players are just worrying about their own game," Steve Flesch said Wednesday, a day before the start of the Buick Open. "It's no secret that he's not playing as good as we all know he can.

"Everybody realizes now that he is beatable, more than he was four years ago. If he showed up, everybody knew he was the guy to beat."

Despite the subtle shots some are taking at Woods and his game, he still is the top-ranked golfer in the world.

In 13 tournaments this year, he has been in the top 10 nine times, including a victory five months ago and two third-place finishes.

Woods has won 40 PGA Tour events, including the 2002 Buick Open, since turning pro in 1996. He held all four majors at the same time and won eight major championships before he turned 27.

But he hasn't won a major since the 2002 U.S. Open and has failed to hold onto a 36-hole lead twice this year after winning tournaments in the same situation the previous five years.

And if Woods does not win the PGA Championship in two weeks at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, he will match his career-long streak without a major at 10.

Does the word "slump" cross his mind?

"The only reason why I might think about it is someone just might say it," he said.

Woods shrugs off the scrutiny he's receiving because frankly, he's used to it.

"Back in 2000 when I was winning a lot, I remember getting criticism for it. I was bad for the Tour because I was winning too much," Woods said. "Now, I'm not winning quite as much. So, there's always something.

"That's just part of being ranked No. 1. When you're on top, people are always going to criticize you and praise you. I don't have a problem with it, as long as it's fair."

Jim Furyk is back at Warwick Hills, about 60 miles north of Detroit, to defend his Buick Open title. Vijay Singh, Stephen Ames, John Daly and Flesch, who is 12th on money list, also are in the 156-player field.

It will be Furyk's fourth competitive outing since surgery on his left wrist in March.

"My wrist is very healthy," said Furyk, who proved it by shooting a 65 Wednesday in the pro-am.

Furyk won last year at 21-under 267 -- two shots ahead of Woods and three others -- about two months after winning the U.S. Open.

He will have a shot at being the tournament's first back-to-back winner since Tony Lema in 1964-65.

"I keep hearing that," Furyk said with a grin.

He said the depth of the PGA Tour makes it difficult to repeat at any tournament, and the Buick Open is no exception because the course is relatively easy.

"There's a lot of 18-unders, 20-unders," Furyk said. "It's a shootout."

Woods is second on the Buick Open's all-time money list, trailing only Furyk. Besides his tie for second last year and victory in 2002, he has finished tied for fourth, eighth and 11th in five appearances.

"I think coming to a golf course and a venue you have played well always brings a little bit of confidence," he said. "Especially, one that I've won before."

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