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Different for Tiger Woods at Deutsche Bank

Tiger Woods must have felt his world was falling apart a year ago when he left the Deutsche Bank Championship.

He lost a high-stakes duel against Vijay Singh and surrendered his No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than five years. A gossip-page column in the Boston Herald that week reported his engagement was on the rocks. And there were whispers among players that a swing change with Hank Haney was sending Woods toward mediocrity.

``It's nice to see that I made a comeback,'' Woods said Thursday.

Woods returns to the Deutsche Bank Championship at No. 1 in the world ranking by six points over Singh, the largest margin in more than two years. He is approaching his first wedding anniversary with Elin Nordegren. And two major championships among his five PGA Tour victories took care of any concerns about his swing.

Which change brought him the most satisfaction?

``I'm supposed to say my wedding, right?'' he said with a laugh.

Woods still has just over three months left in his season, with six official tournaments (two of them in Asia) and the Presidents Cup. But he already can look back on a year that allowed him to restore some order in his world.

``His swing is getting tighter, getting better, and he's getting back to a point that he's dominant, which he's been this year,'' Fred Couples said.

Woods clearly is the dominant figure on the TPC at Boston, if only because hardly anyone else is here.

He has reason to play because the Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday and ends on Labor Day, benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation. Tournament officials had high hopes for a top-heavy field with Singh as the defending champion, Ernie Els planning to play and Adam Scott having won and tied for second the first two years of the event.

Singh, however, pulled out Tuesday when he suffered back spasms playing table tennis with his son. Els tore knee ligaments during a boating vacation before the PGA Championship and is recovering from surgery. Scott decided two weeks ago that he was spinning his wheels and needed a break, so he went home to Australia.

Retief Goosen is playing in China, Sergio Garcia is in Switzerland.

The result is a field that resembles Disney, without the Magic Kingdom across the street.

Having Woods in the field is enough to generate a buzz, but there isn't a lot of star power to go with him. Only two other players in the top 20 are at the TPC at Boston -- Davis Love III (No. 15) and Couples (No. 16).

``We were scheduled to have three of the top four players in the world,'' Woods said. ``We've still got a really good, solid field here this week, and the golf course is in fantastic shape. So we're going to have a great tournament. But it would have been an even better event with those two players in the field.''

The local favorite is Brad Faxon, who grew up about 45 minutes away in Rhode Island. Faxon is coming off a dynamic win last week at Hartford, where he closed with a 61 and then hit a 7-iron from the bunker to 3 feet in the playoff.

Faxon can't wait for the tournament to start for other reasons. He is part-time player, part-time unofficial host this week. He is involved with the title sponsors, his wife is in charge of a massive fund-raiser, and he finally got more than three hours sleep.

``Thank God this tournament starts tomorrow,'' he said.

The course had received only 2 inches of rain since June, then got deluged with 4 inches on Tuesday, leaving the greens soft and the pin accessible. Big hitters have done well on the TPC at Boston the first two years, and that again would seem to favor Woods.

Woods cares most about the majors, and those ended three weeks ago. But there are other goals to pursue, such as ending Singh's two-year reign atop the PGA Tour money list. Woods leads by more than $1.2 million, despite playing seven fewer tournaments.

``It's hard for me to compete against Vijay if Vijay just plays well, because obviously he plays nine or 10 more events than I do per year,'' Woods said. ``What I can do is have a higher money total per event played, and try to get the number of victories higher than anyone else on tour. If you can do that, then you've had a very good year.''

It already has been a good year -- a great one, considering his Masters and British Open titles. And it sure beats what he went through last season, with only one PGA Tour victory, at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Woods said he didn't feel his swing coming together until after the Tour Championship, where he lost a 54-hole lead for only the third time in his career on the PGA Tour.

``It takes time to make changes, and I've made a bunch of changes in my swing,'' he said. ``Unfortunately, that didn't happen during the season last year. It happened after the season was over, in Japan, when I really put it all together. After that, I've really started to play some pretty good golf.''

A year later, not many would argue with that.

 

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