Originally created 11/29/97

Woods stronger, wiser heading to '98

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Winding up what was a highly successful first full year as a pro, Tiger Woods says he's grown stronger and -- already eyeing the 1998 majors -- smarter.

After turning the Masters into his personal showcase with a remarkable 12-stroke victory at Augusta National in April, Woods was expected to be a threat in the other majors, maybe even for a Grand Slam.

But he tied for 19th at the U.S. Open, tied for 24th at the British Open, and tied for 29th at the PGA Championship.

"Augusta, I won't change anything for," Woods said, his seemingly perpetual smile broadening. "But I'm going to try to do things a little differently, try to keep myself fresh when I tee it up.

"Toward the end of this year, like at the PGA, I didn't feel fresh, didn't feel 100 percent mentally."

Woods, who will be 22 Dec. 30, said the hardest part of his adjustment to the Tour's majors was that there are four of them, so "you have to peak four times."

"As an amateur, there's the U.S. Amateur only," he said. "Before that, there was the U.S. Junior Amateur only. And that was it. You focus for one tournament and you're done until the next year.

"Now you have four and it's a lot different. I plan to make up a schedule for next year where I'll be fresh every time out," added Woods, who said he prefers to sharpen his game by practicing rather than by playing.

Although he didn't come close to winning a major after the Masters, he did wind up with four victories overall and topped the Tour's money list with $2,066,833.

"I would like to win as much (in 1998) as I did this year, if not more," Woods said. "I also would like to keep my play at a high level consistently."

Woods, who will be vcompeting against Mark O'Meara, Tom Lehman and David Duval for the $600,000 at stake in this weekend's Skins Game, said he's been working with weights and it has paid off.

"I've gotten a lot stronger from all the lifting," said Woods, who already has joined John Daly as the two longest hitters on the Tour.

Asked if he still had a 28-inch waist, he smiled again and said, "Yes. I haven't put on any weight, still am at 158 pounds."

Looking back over the year, Woods, a hint of regret in his voice, said he no longer feels like he can be a kid.

"I've had to grow up in a hurry because of this," he said, gesturing toward the cameras and reporters in the interview room.

"I love the traveling, seeing new places, meeting new people. And I know how lucky I am to wake up every morning and be happy to go to work. But now people try to get into my private life."

Mentioning the tabloids, he laughed and said, "Like this year was the first time I've ever been engaged and dating at the same time."

The 18th hole of the Skins at Rancho La Quinta will be worth at least $100,000, with an extra $60,000 added to the prize for the final hole Sunday. So the first six holes will be worth $20,000 each, the next six $30,000, and Nos. 13-17 worth $40,000.

Duval was a late replacement for defending champion Fred Couples, who withdrew to stay with his father, who is being treated for leukemia.


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