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Tiger Woods returns at strong Wachovia field
Joey Sindelar moves into World Top 100
Wachovia Championship 2004 - Event Preview

Wachovia Championship attracts top players

Joey Sindelar treasures his trophy from the Wachovia Championship more than any of his six others, and at this point in his career, who can blame him? It might be as close as the 47-year-old veteran ever comes to winning a major.

With a $6 million purse and a traditional, tree-lined layout that draws raves from nearly everyone, the fledgling tournament has brought the best players to Quail Hollow Country Club during its previous two years. Nine of the top 11 from the world ranking are back for year three -- including Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson -- with only Ernie Els and Retief Goosen absent.

``Any field that you go to and the No. 1 player in the world is playing, there's something special about that tournament,'' Adam Scott said Wednesday. ``It's got that feel of a big event, and certainly if you can get right in it this week, you know you're on track.''

That description clearly fit Sindelar in 2004, when he snapped a victory drought that lasted 370 tournaments by beating Arron Oberholser on the second playoff hole. Woods, Mickelson and Singh all finished in the top 10.

For Sindelar, who hadn't won since the 1990 Hardee's Golf Classic, it easily was the biggest victory of his career, and it helped him finish 41st on the money list with more than $1.5 million. That's the most he's earned in any of his 21 years on the PGA Tour.

``We had a really good time steadily for the first month, going, 'We took Vijay down, we took Tiger down, Mickelson was nothing,''' Sindelar said. ``That was our breakfast conversation most mornings.

``But on a very serious note, I'll always remember, the guys have been entirely kind in saying this was not just some tournament. Look at the field. That's why that trophy has not gone back with the other trophies in the house.''

Woods is making his first start since winning his fourth Masters in a stirring duel with Chris DiMarco that went into a playoff. Now, Woods is again facing questions about making a run at the Grand Slam, with rumors swirling that he was a late arrival because he stopped over at Pinehurst No. 2, where the U.S. Open will be played next month.

Not true.

``The last time I was there it was raining and I missed a putt on the 18th,'' Woods said, referring to his tie for third in the 1999 U.S. Open, two shots behind Payne Stewart.

And the Grand Slam?

``No, I'm not thinking about that,'' Woods said. ``You can't think about that unless you've won the first three and get to the last one. You've got to take it one step at a time.''

Still, it beats the conversation from a year ago.

Woods was coming off his worst finish ever in the Masters, a tie for 22nd, and then blew a 36-hole lead for the first time in five years at the Wachovia Championship. The most glaring example of his game was on the 16th hole in the third round, when his driving was so erratic that he aimed 30 yards left and played a big fade just to keep it in play.

He had no such problems during the pro-am on Wednesday, particularly on the difficult 16th hole, a par-4 playing at 486 yards.

``I don't know how far I hit it,'' Woods said. ``I don't know long the hole is, but I had 118 yards to the hole.''

When told the distance, he flashed that familiar smile.

``There you go,'' he said. ``I hit it good.''

He likely won't need to worry too much about keeping his ball in the short grass, either. An unseasonably cold spring has left the rough a bit thin and opened up the course a bit. For now, it's playing hard and fast -- at least until the rain that has followed the tour all season makes an expected visit to Charlotte.

If and when it does, birdies will be at a premium.

``It's supposed to rain, but if we don't get any, the scores won't be low at all because it's very hard to get the ball close the hole, and it's hard to putt and chip with it being so firm,'' Mickelson said. ``It's going to be a fun test.''


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