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Heat & crowds a challenge for Tiger Woods in Australia

Tiger Woods must overcome packed crowds, scorching heat and a strong local contingent bent on humbling the world number one on home soil to win his first title Down Under at this week’s Australian Masters.

Woods, who was flustered by camera-happy fans at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last week, will not be short of company at Melbourne’s Kingston Heath course, where a crowd of 100,000 will witness his first appearance in Australia for 11 years.

While the American laughed off the 7,000 fans and low-hovering helicopters watching his practice round on Tuesday, organisers have vowed to swoop on errant mobile phone and camera-users among the first-time golf-watchers in the crowd.

Little can be done about the weather, however, which has Melbourne in the grip of a record-breaking late spring heatwave that is forecast to bake Kingston Heath’s already tricky greens into flint-hard frying pans over the weekend.

Players who battle through the heat to make the cut at the A$1.5 million ($1.4 million) event will be rewarded with temperatures expected to reach 35 degree Celsius day on Saturday, while Sunday is forecast to cool to a slightly more bearable 30.

With searing gusts likely to criss-cross the course’s tight fairways and play havoc with club selection, Woods is looking to channel the links golf mastery that has delivered him three British Opens for a first tournament victory in Australia.

“The only difference here is it’s hot as hell,” the 14-time major champion told reporters.

“But it’s similar, though, similar type of style. The ball definitely springs. The greens are much faster than they are for the Open championship. But it’s the same type of golf.”

Woods is no stranger to Melbourne’s sandbelt golf courses, having edged Australian great Greg Norman one-up in a singles match during the United States’ only losing campaign for the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in 1998.

The 33-year-old also played the Masters’ 1997 edition, finishing joint eighth behind local veteran Peter Lonard at nearby Huntingdale.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of the sandbelt courses,” Woods said. You don’t need a golf course that is 7,500 yards for it to be hard. You can just build it like this and have it nice and tricky and it’s just a treat to play.”

Standing in the way of Woods’s first title Down Under are some of Australia’s biggest names, all keen to upstage the tournament’s headline act.

“It does seem that way that everyone seems to have given him the tournament already,” said former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, who finished joint 10th at Shanghai.

“There’s quite a few local guys here who have played this style of golf more often, know this golf course a little bit better… The local guys have that added emotional home tournament drive to win it here.”

World number 12 Ogilvy is joined by compatriots Adam Scott and 2007 champion Aaron Baddeley, the former returning to welcome form with a third-place finish at the recent Singapore Open.

“I certainly think some local knowledge helps around here, there’s no doubt… but if anyone can figure it out, Tiger can,” Scott added.


November 11, 2009

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