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Tiger Woods confident heading to Bay Hill

Four-times champion Tiger Woods goes into this week's Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando, Florida as overwhelming favourite to win his fourth title of the year.

The world number one has exuded confidence over the last two months and appears to have regained the aura of dominance he enjoyed in 1999 and 2000.

"I'm able to hit so many more golf shots now than I could last year at this time and, on top of that, I can fix it while I'm out there playing," Woods told reporters after winning the Doral Championship in Miami two weeks ago.

"Last year at this time, I had so many things I was still working on that I had a hard time fixing it because if I hit one shot, it could be three or four different things I needed to work on to try and rectify that shot.

"Now I know exactly what to do and I can rectify it on the very next shot. I'm playing with a lot of confidence."

Woods, whose six PGA Tour victories last year included the U.S. Masters and British Open, has won three times in his first five tournaments of 2006.

Although two came via playoffs, he always seemed to be in overall charge.

"I look at it this way, I put myself there," said Woods, who also won the Buick Invitational in San Diego in January before clinching the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic the following week.

"If I put myself there enough times, those things are going to happen."

Asked to rate his confidence with the U.S. Masters three weeks away, Woods replied: "Pretty high, considering I've put myself there in virtually every event".

All the signs point towards a record fifth Bay Hill victory for the 30-year-old American, who will enjoy the added benefit of home comforts this week.

"It's always nice to be able to sleep in my own bed," said Woods, who lives about 10 minutes from the Bay Hill Club.

"Plus, the tournament is hosted by Arnold Palmer, and I have nothing but respect for him. He's done so much for the game."

Held at Palmer's club since 1979, it has been unofficially described as "Arnie's tournament" for more than two decades and attracts one of the strongest fields of the season.

Apart from Woods, six other members of the world's top 10 are playing this week. The absentees are fourth-ranked Phil Mickelson, David Toms (seventh) and Luke Donald (10th), who won last week's Honda Classic.

American Kenny Perry, who won last year's title by two shots from Fiji's Vijay Singh and Briton Graeme McDowell, is also not playing. The world number 16 had knee surgery on Monday.

South African Ernie Els, champion in 1998, accepts his game needs fine-tuning as he chases his first victory of the year.

"I just need to put the pieces together," the three-times major winner said on his website.

"I haven't been consistent right through the bag, which is unusual because I feel that's always been one of my strengths as a golfer.

"But I've put in a lot of work on my game over the last week and my swing feels good."

From next year, the Bay Hill Invitational will become the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

March 15, 2006


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