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Distractions looming for Tiger Woods

Most observers at this month's Masters agreed that Tiger Woods was not quite his usual self.

True that, despite not playing at his very best, he came within a couple of shots of winning his 13th major and still outplayed top rivals like Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

But there was something in his demeanour and body language that ran counter to the image of the super-confident golfing supremo that the world has come to expect in the last decade.

Woods was shaky off the tee, indecisive at times with his approaches and not quite his usual deadly self on the greens.

He insisted that his focus was as sharp as ever, but with the date for the birth of his first child moving ever closer (early July), he will undoubtedly have other considerations on his mind.

Asked how he expected life would change for himself and wife Elin, Woods replied: "Sleepless nights. Obviously our whole priority is to raise our child. That will be our number one priority."

Zach Johnson's upset win at Augusta National further alters the wider picture for Woods.

It means he can no longer achieve a second "Tiger Slam" of holding all four of golf's major trophies at the same time, (he already did so in 2000/2001), and the holy grail of a first ever calendar-year Grand Slam has gone out of the window for another year.

He still has his main career target - the all-time best 18 majors of Jack Nicklaus - clearly in front of him, but at just 31, he can expect to have many more years to come being in contention in the top tournaments.

Woods has kept his immediate schedule understandably open-ended and for the moment he is not due to tee up again until the Players Championship at Ponte Vedra Beach on May 10.

It would then be on to the US Open which from June 14 takes place at Oakmont outside of Pittsburgh, a course that Woods has never played on .

The birth of his child is due to take place between the US Open and the British Open which starts at Carnoustie, Scotland on July 19 and there have been doubts cast on whether he will defend the title he won last year at Hoylake.

For the moment though, Woods says he is aiming on competing at both those tournaments plus the final of the four majors, the USPGA which will be held at Southern Hills outside of Tulsa from August 9.

"I've played three of the four," he said prior to the Masters when asked about this year's major venues.

"I still haven't played Oakmont, so that will be fresh for me. I played Carnoustie in '99 (Open) and I also played, I think, two Scottish Opens there as well.

"And I played the US Open in Tulsa and also played the Tour Championship there in '96.

"So three of the four, I love all three venues. Just curious to see how Oakmont is playing."

In Woods' favour the chasing pack has seldom been so far behind him.

Mickelson struggled all the way at Augusta and has yet to get back his full confidence following the last hole collapse that cost him the US Open title at Winged Foot last year.

Els insists he has totally recovered from the knee reconstruction surgery he underwent 22 months ago, but his missed cut in the Masters was his first in a major in over seven years.

Singh has turned 44, Sergio Garcia is treading water and Jim Furyk is already over-achieving in reaching the world No.2 ranking.

That opens the door for another outsider to take the US Open title at Oakmont and boosts European hopes of breaking a dire run of 30 majors without a win.

Ironically the last European to win in a major was Scotland's Paul Lawrie at the same Carnoustie in July 1999.

April 17, 2007


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