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Tiger Woods returns in Shanghai this week

Tiger Woods's rivals will be hoping he has not been too refreshed by his short break when the world number one returns to competitive action at the $5-million Champions Tournament in Shanghai this week.

American Woods, who skipped last week's PGA Tour championship to recharge his batteries, won six of eight tournaments -- including two majors -- after returning from a nine-week layoff following the death of his father earlier this year.

Having finished runner-up to England's David Howell at the Sheshan International golf club last year, Woods wants to go one better at Asia's richest tournament for a 10th title in what, on the course at least, has been another successful season.

"I think if you look at it overall, I've had a pretty good year," the British Open and U.S. PGA champion told the tournament Web site.

"I think eight wins on the PGA Tour and one in Dubai, so nine wins, that's a good year...it is pretty good. It would be really special to top it off by winning the 'Champion of Champions' title."

The event, which starts on Thursday, launches the European Tour's 2007 season and newly-crowned Order of Merit winner Padraig Harrington is in the field along with defending champion Howell and seven of their team mates from the Ryder Cup.

"Winning...last year kick-started my best season on tour," said Howell. "To finish top in an event with so many of the world's best players -- and especially holding off Tiger's challenge at the weekend -- gave me a real boost and I am looking forward to my title defense."

The presence of so many of his erstwhile rivals from the K Club in September is unlikely to unsettle Woods, who has had to deal with far worse than Ryder Cup disappointment this year.

"If you take into account what happened off the golf course, it's my worst year," he said. "In the grand scheme of things success on the golf course doesn't even compare to losing a parent."

World number two Jim Furyk of the U.S. and number six Retief Goosen join a strong field from Europe, Australasia, Southern Africa and, of course, Asia out to stop Woods's winning streak at six successive tournaments.

Asian Tour champion Thaworn Wiratchant thinks the continent's challenge at such events is getting stronger through younger players such as Shiv Kapur of India and Thais Chinarat Phadungsil and Prom Meesawat.

"Many young players have shown their potential this year...I think these guys have the potential to spring a surprise," said Thai Thaworn, who finished tied for eighth at the inaugural tournament last year.

Even if Chinese challengers are likely to be thin on the ground this week, Asia claims part-ownership of Woods through his Thai mother.

"My mom is Asian so it was very much part of the household I was raised under," he said. "So any time I get a chance to come to Asia, I feel very, very comfortable.

"It's just a matter of coming here, competing, enjoying the culture and hopefully going home with a trophy."

November 7, 2006


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