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Tiger Woods still feeling rusty

Tiger Woods is playing for the third consecutive week on the PGA Tour, a rarity on his schedule.

It sure doesn't feel that way.

He spent more time in the locker room than on the golf course at the Nissan Open, cut to 36 holes over five days because of heavy rain. Then it was on to La Costa Resort for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, where he played only 32 holes before being eliminated in the second round.

"One of the reasons why I'm playing is I haven't teed it up very much,'' Woods said Wednesday after his pro-am round in the Ford Championship at Doral. "It's nice to get out here in some warm weather, and on greens that are fast and smooth.''

Woods highlights a strong field at the Blue Monster that includes Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and 11 of the top 12 players in the world ranking. The only one missing is Ernie Els, who hasn't been back since winning at Doral in 2002. The Big Easy has been playing in Dubai on the European Tour ever since.

For the rest, the blast of warm air and smooth putting surfaces signals the start of the Florida Swing -- the first stop on the road to the Masters.

"Any time you get off that West Coast and the poa greens, and you come to smooth greens, your mind definitely heads toward Augusta, because they're obviously the smoothest, fastest greens we putt on all year,'' Woods said.

This is only the third time Woods has played at Doral.

He tied for ninth in 1998, and was runner-up to Els in 2002 during a terrific duel Sunday. Els had an eight-shot lead going into the final round, but Woods reduced to it one shot after nine holes.

Doral also gives Woods his third straight chance to return to No. 1 in the world.

He needed a fourth-place finish at Riviera, but tied for 13th. Woods and Singh were eliminated in the second round at La Costa. This week is a little more complicated.

Woods could return to No. 1 by winning the Ford Championship. He also could get there by finishing alone in second place, provided Singh is out of the top five.

Singh won earlier this year at the Sony Open, but it has been a struggle since. He was never a factor at Torrey Pines or in Phoenix, and he missed the cut at Pebble Beach before leaving early from Match Play.

The 42-year-old Fijian was somewhat surprised he was still No. 1.

"I haven't really played well all year,'' he said. "I really thought I was going to lose that already. My focus from now on is just to win golf tournaments.

"Trying to be No. 1 is putting too much pressure on the wrong part of my game. If your focus moves away to try to be No. 1, then obviously you're not trying to win golf tournaments. And I don't like that feeling.''

Doral used to be the unofficial start to the PGA Tour season, back when international players were the talk of golf. They would play in Australia or take time off, then show up at the Blue Monster -- Greg Norman, Nick Price and Nick Faldo, going toe-to-toe with the best of the Americans.

Doral has lost some of its luster in recent years, especially as the West Coast has beefed up and a World Golf Championship was placed at the end of it. But no one has any complaints about the field this week.

Along with Woods, Singh and Mickelson, others taking on the Blue Monster are Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir, David Toms, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Stewart Cink and Davis Love III.

Only Toms from that group has reason to be tired. He played six matches last week at La Costa, turning in the most dominant performance of the year with a 6 & 5 victory over Chris DiMarco in the 36-hole final.

Players were still talking about his dominance, especially in his semifinal match against Ian Poulter, when Toms hit his approach an average of 5 1/2 feet from the hole from an average of 161 yards out over eight consecutive holes.

"What I can take away from it is that I played good every match,'' Toms said. "It wasn't like I dogged it one day and somebody just played worse. It was a lot like a stroke-play event, where you have to play good every day to win. That's what I was able to do.

"There's no reason why I can't go out and play great again.''


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