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Tiger Woods looks to reassert American dominance

Tiger Woods has not exactly set Europe on fire in the two weeks he has been here. He has one more chance in an event he has dominated in recent years.

After a first-round loss at the HSBC World Match Play Championship and a disappointing Ryder Cup, Woods is back in action Thursday in the $7.5 million American Express Championship at The Grove.

Woods, paired with European Ryder Cup hero Darren Clarke in the first two rounds, crossed the Atlantic a two weeks ago for the World Match Play at Wentworth and lost in the first round to Shaun Micheel.

Then it was over to Ireland for the Ryder Cup where his opening shot went into water as a harbinger of things to come. Woods did finish as the United States' top scorer with three points in five matches but that did noting to take the sting out of another crushing defeat.

"Not real happy," said Woods when asked how much America's failure bothered him. "What am I, 1-4 in Ryder Cups? It doesn't sit well, nor should it.

"We went out there, we played and they just outplayed us. They made more putts than we did and in any of these cups that I've been a part of it's whoever plays 18 the best and whoever makes the most putts for the week."

With those two disappointing results behind him, the world's top-ranked player has his sights on what would be a phenomenal feat - six straight stroke play victories.

Woods began the run at the British Open in July and followed that with wins at the Buick Open, the PGA Championship, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the Deutsche Bank Championship.

The win at Medinah was Woods' 12th in a major championship and he has run his PGA Tour win total to 53 - fifth on the all-time list.

The 30-year-old still has a long way to go to match the record for consecutive victories - the amazing 11 in 1945 by Byron Nelson, who died Tuesday at 94 - but six has been achieved only twice before by Ben Hogan in 1948 and Woods himself from the NEC world championship in 1999 to the Pebble Beach Pro-am in February 2000.

"Well, it doesn't really feel like I'm extending the streak. Just because I'm playing two events prior to this event, didn't win either one of them. So no, it doesn't feel like that at all," Woods said. "I guess you could say it's an extension of our tour season, but I did play in The Match Play and that's an individual event, and had an opportunity to win that and didn't even come close. So, no, I definitely don't feel that way."

The defending champion this week, Woods has a staggering record in the World Golf Championship series since it started in 1999. He has won 11 of 21 starts in WGC events, including four American Express titles.

Woods will be attempting to extend his domination in this event against a field containing nine of his Ryder Cup teammates and the entire European side except Paul McGinley.

The Americans missing are Vaughn Taylor, who like McGinley failed to qualify, and Phil Mickelson, who will likely not play again until next season.

Ranked second in the world, Mickelson has added to the impression he wants to shut down for the season the moment the majors finish in August with his absence this week. And maybe with good reason.

Since squandering the U.S. Open with a double-bogey on 18 on Sunday, Mickelson has finished no better than 16th in five events with a missed cut and a 54th and 65th-place finish mixed in. He played all five sessions like Woods at the K Club, but his only earned half a point.

The par-72 course at The Grove plays 7,170 yards. First prize is $1.35 million.

September 28, 2006

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