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Tiger Woods reflects on fatherhood

The last time a U.S. Open was looming on Tiger Woods' schedule, a life-changing loss weighed heavily on his mind.

One year later, he again finds himself preparing for a dramatic change in his personal life as the second major nears.

"This year is totally different, from losing a father to certainly becoming a father, my life is in two totally different places, a polar 180 from one another," Woods said Monday in a teleconference previewing the PGA Championship -- a topic that's still two majors away from being on the No. 1 player's mind.

Last year in the Open at Winged Foot, Woods was making his first tour appearance since the death of his father, Earl, six weeks earlier. Next week at Oakmont, he'll be playing in the Open less than a month before he's due to become a father himself.

Woods recounted his struggles at last year's Open, where he shot 12 over par and missed the cut in a major for the first time as a professional. He hadn't played in nine weeks -- since the Masters -- in the longest layoff of his career.

"I just wasn't quite ready," Woods said. "I wasn't quite able to get back into it with my practice sessions because every time I'd go practice I'd always think about my fundamentals, and who taught me my fundamentals but my father?

"It was hard for me actually to get away from it because a lot of the things I ever learned how to do in the game came from my father, so that was actually probably a more difficult task than actually getting back on the golf course because I have so many great memories of being with my dad on the golf course."

Woods enters next week's Open after a 15th-place finish at The Memorial this weekend, which he capped with a 5-under 67 -- his best round of the week.

But beyond the Open, Woods' future is uncertain. He's hosting a tournament in Washington, D.C., from July 5-8 -- about the time his wife, Elin, is due to have the couple's first child. The British Open starts July 19, and the PGA Championship begins Aug. 9 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.

"I'm pacing myself already just because of the fact that I have a baby coming up," Woods said, speaking of the FedEx Cup's impact on the tour. "I don't know how much I'm going to play after that or how much I'm going to play before that. A lot of that is depending on what happens and the health of Elin and our child."

Asked if he would defend his title in the PGA Championship, Woods said: "Well, I hope so."

Woods criticized Southern Hills, where his "Tiger Slam" run of four straight wins in majors ended at the U.S. Open in 2001, for having the greens on Nos. 9 and 18 at different speeds than the other 16. He blamed troubles on those holes in part for his struggles in a tie for 12th place.

"You grind getting ready for the championship on all 16 other greens and you're so conscious of watching your pace all the time ... ," Woods said. "I think a few of the guys that I talked to went through that week basically thinking that they've got to use two different strokes, one for 16 greens and the other for the other two.

"It was just an unfortunate thing because those are two great holes, one being a shorter hole and the other one being such a great finishing hole. It was a shame that we couldn't play it to how it really was originally designed."

The two greens are among those that have been rebuilt in preparation for this year's PGA Championship. Al Bush, the tournament's general chairman, said Southern Hills spent $3 million to upgrade the course, rebuilding 86 bunkers and resodding 82 acres of fairways. Bush said the course will be 7,131 yards long for the PGA with par set at 70.

Woods said he still "always thought it was a wonderful golf course."

"It's a golf course on which you have to shape shots both ways to keep the ball in the fairway and you've got to place the ball on the greens correctly," Woods said. "It's not overly long, but with Bermuda rough you don't need to have rough very high around the greens or even the fairways to have it be very difficult. If the greens get up to speed, it's definitely going to be one of the tougher tests that we're going to play."


June 5, 2007

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