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Tiger chase looms: Woods has field on edge

AUGUSTA, Ga. - They’re bowing again. And cowering. And shaking in their golf spikes at his mere presence on the tee.

There was a time not so long ago when we thought the others had finally stopped surrendering to Tiger Woods’ greatness. We were almost convinced they had finally stopped throwing in the towel, and adopting some moxie when he was in a tournament, and hovering around the lead.

That time is gone. He’s beaten them down again. Two weeks ago at the World Golf Championships, Tiger Woods shot a final round over par, and still won by a healthy margin.

No one came near him, or dared raise a challenge.

With the Masters set to begin tomorrow, Tiger Woods, who made his initial splash here 10 years ago by lapping the field with a record-setting 18-under-par 270, once again is on one of those awe-inspiring rolls. He’s captured the last two majors, won just about everything he’s entered during the past 10 months, and with this historic anniversary upon us, has most of the field already eliminated just by looking at them.

“I think Tiger, if he stays healthy and motivated, will win 12 green jackets,” fellow PGA Tour player Fred Funk said yesterday. “In my opinion, he’s got 12 to 15 guys he’s got to beat (this year), and he’s already beaten half of those guys before he tees it up.”

In other words, should he charge out to an early lead, the suspense will be over. Green jacket No. 5 will be in the bank. While Phil Mickelson has been a legitimate dance partner for Tiger in this tournament, trading jackets over the past five years, he’s currently battling demons from a U.S. Open past.

“I think Tiger just puts so much pressure on other players because they know he always has another gear,” said noted swing coach David Leadbetter, who has been working with Ernie Els and Charles Howell III. “Other players try to change gear, but aren’t always successful. He gets them out of their comfort level. He makes them do more than they’re used to if they want to win. He’s intimidating, let’s face it.”

But will there be hope for the others down the road? Will Tiger be a changed man once he and wife Elin become parents later this summer?

Will golf mean less to him? Will he lose his edge? Will he lose the power he currently wields over the rest of the field?

“No, but I hope it does,” Mickelson said with a laugh. “I just don’t see that happening.”

As for the man himself, Tiger wasn’t so sure what the future holds in terms of fatherhood, given the unknown. He didn’t know where golf would stand in his life once his baby is born.

“As important? I don’t know. But certainly, it will be more difficult to try and prepare,” Tiger Woods said yesterday, “because obviously, we’re going to have a little one, and it’s our responsibility to try and raise it as best we can, and that’s going to require a lot of energy, and I don’t know because I’ve never gone through it before. I don’t know how my preparation is going to change or not, and my playing schedule is going to change or not; these are all things that are up in the air because I really don’t know.” What we do know is last year at the Masters, Tiger Woods wasn’t quite himself because his father, Earl, was dying. He wasn’t in the final group Sunday with Mickelson, but he wasn’t far behind. He had opportunities to close in, but couldn’t sink a putt.

“Last year was a lot more difficult than I was letting on because I knew that was the last tournament (my father) was ever going to watch me play,” Tiger Woods said. “I just wanted to win one for his last time and didn’t get it done and it hurt quite a bit.

“Probably one of the reasons why you saw (my) emotions so apparent at the British Open is because I wanted that to be when he was alive, just one last time, and I didn’t get it done.”

Maybe he’ll be even more determined to win for his kid. That could also happen. But right now, he’s just looking for his third straight major.

Judging by how he was twirling his clubs in the fairway yesterday during his practice round, it was easy to see that familiar look of confidence. Think anyone else noticed?

Read more at http://sports.bostonherald.com




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