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Pressure on Woods to produce at Augusta

He has won the U.S. Masters three times, became its youngest champion in 1997 and holds the tournament record for 72 holes with an 18-under-par aggregate of 270.

Yet Tiger Woods, the former world number one, is under mounting pressure to perform at Augusta National next week when he will be bidding to end a barren run of 10 majors without victory.

Golfing great Jack Nicklaus, an 18-times major champion, endured a similar winless stretch -- 12 starts -- between his successes in the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol and the 1970 British Open at St Andrews.

However Nicklaus, unlike fellow American Woods, came desperately close to winning on several occasions during his run and did not have to cope with the same level of media focus and speculation.

Woods's last major success came at the 2002 U.S. Open, shortly before he split with swing coach Butch Harmon, and his form was then exposed to increasing scrutiny over the following two years.

While undergoing the second revamp of his swing as a professional, he struggled for accuracy off the tee and also with his approach play.

Between late 1999 and mid-2002, Woods won seven majors in 11 starts. After parting company with Harmon and having knee surgery in December 2002, the aura of domination he once enjoyed over his rivals unquestionably dimmed.

That began to change, though, towards the end of last year.

Newly married, Woods began to see positive results after spending much of that year working with swing coach Hank Haney.

He won his last two strokeplay events of 2004 before triumphing twice in his first five PGA Tour outings this season.

Most impressive of those four victories was his performance at the Doral Open in Miami last month, when the eight-times major winner out-duelled Masters champion Phil Mickelson by a shot in an epic last-day battle.

Trailing Mickelson by two strokes going into the final round, Woods closed with a brilliant six-under-par 66 to clinch his 42nd PGA Tour title with a tournament record aggregate of 24-under 264.

"I reaped some rewards at the end of last year for my hard work and that was very satisfying," said Woods, who will be bidding for his third green jacket in five years at Augusta National.

"Now I feel very happy with my swing, there's no doubt about it. At the Doral, I was able to fly the ball, to hit the shots at the trajectory I wanted each and every time."

For those watching at the Doral, Woods appeared to have regained complete control of his swing as well as the ability to produce the magical shot as if on demand.

Whether he can translate that form to this year's majors remains to be seen. Augusta will provide the first evidence.

 

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