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Tiger Woods send ominous warning to rivals

Tiger Woods's comfort factor at Torrey Pines, where he won a record sixth Buick Invitational on Sunday, will have sent a collective shudder down the spines of his rivals for this year's U.S. Open.

The second major of the season will be staged from June 12-15 on the scenic South Course at Torrey Pines, a coastal layout Woods has played countless times since his youth.

As if that was not enough to inspire fear into any would-be Tiger hunter, the world number one says he is now playing the best golf of his life.

His eight-stroke victory romp at the weekend earned him his 62nd PGA Tour title, and his 16th in just 32 starts since the beginning of 2006.

The benchmark for Woods was previously his golden run of form in 2000 when he clinched the last three majors of the year, ending that season with 11 victories worldwide.

"I'm starting to get better," he told reporters after spread-eagling the field at Torrey Pines in his first tournament of 2008.

"I'm hitting shots that I never could hit before, even in 2000.

"People think: 'Yeah, you played great' but I made everything (with the putter). I'm actually hitting the ball better now than I did during that (2000) stretch."

U.S. Ryder Cup player Stewart Cink, a four-times winner on the PGA Tour, was awestruck after partnering Woods for the last two rounds at Torrey Pines.

"I'd say this is the best I've seen him play," Cink said after tying for third at the Buick Invitational.

"The last couple days, off the tee, the control he had was just really very impressive.

"The Tiger that we saw a year and two years ago, hitting it sort of all over the place, I think that's a thing of the past. He's got it geared down and he came out and played really well."

Six-times major champion Nick Faldo, while working as a golf analyst for CBS television for the last two rounds at Torrey Pines, said: "The message Tiger sends to his fellow competitors is a bit of a bolt."

The last time a venue on the PGA Tour staged a regular event and the U.S. Open in the same year was Pebble Beach in 2000.

Again, the omens are bleak for Woods's rivals.

The remarkable American won the 2000 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am by two shots before returning four months later to post a record-breaking 15-stroke victory at the U.S. Open.

Already a winner of 13 major titles, Woods triggered shock waves in the game earlier this year when he suggested on his Web site that a sweep of all four in 2008 was "within reason."

At Torrey Pines, he added: "The question is: 'Do I see it as a possibility?' and I say yes.

"A lot of different factors go into it and hopefully all those factors line up for me. The venues this year, I like all of them but I've liked all the venues before in the past.

"It's just a matter of getting your game coming together at the right time and getting all the right breaks. Hopefully you get lucky at the right times."

Although the course set-up at Torrey Pines will be different in June when the U.S. Open features its traditional tight fairways, thick rough and lightning-fast greens, Woods's comfort factor will still apply.

"I've always felt comfortable coming down here and playing, ever since my junior golf days, even though the golf course has been redesigned," he said, referring to changes made to the South Course in 2001.

"I still feel comfortable even after the redesign. I still felt good with the lines. I picked up on the greens pretty quickly and I've had success ever since then."


January 29, 2008

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