Originally created 02/10/00

Woods on familiar ground at Torrey Pines



SAN DIEGO -- As if his dramatic comeback at Pebble Beach isn't momentum enough, Tiger Woods will have as close to a home-course advantage as possible when he tries to run his amazing winning streak to seven.

Woods is all too familiar with taming Torrey Pines, the municipal course with a million-dollar setting on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He did it in junior golf as a 15-year-old and he did it last year with a spectacular weekend of golf to win the Buick Invitational.

Now he's pushing the envelope as a 24-year-old, sitting one victory short of golf's second-longest victory streak ever. His victory at Pebble Beach, coming after being seven strokes behind with seven holes to play, made him the first player since Ben Hogan in 1948 to win six straight tour events.

A victory in the Buick, which starts Thursday, will keep Woods on track toward what has long been considered an untouchable record, Byron Nelson's 11 straight victories in 1945.

And Woods, who grew up not too far up the freeway in Orange County, will be in a comfort zone. Torrey Pines, he said, is one of his favorite courses. His parents will be here and so will friends.

Despite all the emotion and hoopla of winning at Pebble Beach on Monday afternoon, Woods was on the Torrey Pines North Course at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, getting out while the greens were fresh.

"It's a great environment to play in," Woods said Wednesday. "I have some good memories from this golf course, not only from last year, but from junior golf. Even the times I played as a professional, I guess overall I felt really well."

With a gallery of some 2,000 watching Wednesday's pro-am, Woods sank a 15-foot eagle putt on the 18th at Torrey Pines South to end his round.

Last year on the same hole, Woods sank an eagle putt to end a nine-month victory drought. After making the cut by just two strokes, he came back and played 17-under during the weekend.

His Saturday round of 62 broke the South Course record and was his best round as a pro, which he later lowered to 61 in the Byron Nelson Classic in May. His 65 on Sunday allowed him to tie George Burns' 1987 tournament record of 22-under 266.

His Buick victory came after months of trying to get comfortable with a new swing.

"It was nice to know that I could do it with the new changes implemented," Woods said. "I barely made the cut, and came out on the weekend and played great.

"That's when I knew the swing changes we were working on were coming together. I was able to swing naturally, instead of having to worry about each position on my backswing and on my downswing, and trying to feel it. I could just get up there, see the shot, hit it, and there it was.

"Everything about it was indicating that it was just a matter of time before it came together, and it stayed together for a while."

It's still together, but Woods said it certainly won't be easy to break Nelson's record.

"It's a tremendous task that I have ahead of me, if I'm going to be the one, or somebody else is going to be the one. You know, whoever it is, you are going to have to play good for not only a long period of time, but you have to get lucky. You have to get some good breaks right away."

For instance, Woods said if rookie Matt Gogel had shot par on the back nine Monday at Pebble, his streak would have been over. But Gogel collapsed with a 40 and Woods reeled him in.

"There is a chance" to catch Nelson, Woods said. "But the chances are very small. Very small."

Woods claims the only time he thinks about his streak is when reporters ask about it.

"I'm out there trying to win a tournament, that's all," he said. "And what I did last week doesn't really matter this week."

Woods said he looks more at the fact that he's won eight of his last nine tournaments. "I think that's pretty good," he said.

But Woods already knows what the huge gallery expected this weekend will be cheering for.

"It's just interesting that here people talk about the streak, rather than the shots I'm hitting or the putts I made here and there. And I think that's more important than the streak because that's what keeps it alive."

There's a reason people are excited about the streak, Arnold Palmer said during an interview on The Golf Channel.

"It's amazing if you think about it. He's 24 years old and he already has a path in back of him," Palmer said. "He is drawing a line, and it's going to be tough for anyone that I see right now to touch him, if he keeps his mind about his business and enjoys the game."

AUSTRALIAN MASTERS:

Weary from jet lag and not well prepared for his first tournament Down Under, Sergio Garcia will have one advantage in the Australian Masters in today's first round in Melbourne.

He has a new caddie in Fanny Sunesson, who caddied for a decade for six-time major winner Nick Faldo.

However, the Swedish caddie hasn't seen the course since alterations were made last year, bringing a flood of complaints from players.

Garcia flew into Melbourne from the United States on Wednesday and had a practice round.

Garcia will join John Daly, Greg Norman, Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby in the field of the $635,000 tournament.

Australia's Aaron Baddeley, who won the Australian Open at Royal Sydney in November, withdrew from the tournament Thursday with the flu.

Norman, a six-time winner, goes into this event after failing to make the cut at his signature tournament, the Greg Norman International, for the second straight year.

Three-time Australian Masters champion Craig Parry also pulled out after injuring his hamstring Monday while chasing a ball during a cricket matc.