ORLANDO, Fla. - As a three-time champion, Tiger Woods has a lifetime exemption to the Masters. Just don't expect to him to match Arnold Palmer's record of 50 consecutive tournaments.
Asked how long he envisioned himself playing Augusta National, Woods replied, "Not as long as people think."
Retirement is harder in golf than any other sport, because players can compete well into their 50s (Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Jay Haas) and the Champions Tour can extend careers even longer.
Palmer, 75, does not plan to play a PGA Tour event this year for the first time since 1953.
"I'll definitely quit the game earlier than people think," Woods said in a recent interview. "The only reason I would play is the occasional tournament if my son is good enough to be out there, and he chooses to play. That would be cool. But my foundation means much more than what I do out here."
That's not to say Woods, who at 29 has been on tour for nine years, is contemplating retirement.
He made it clear there are two records he is chasing - the 18 professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus, and the 82 career PGA Tour victories by Sam Snead. Woods has eight majors and 42 tour victories.
But how will he know when it's time to quit?
"When my best isn't good enough, I'm walking," Woods said. "You'll know when you're not able to produce any more. I don't lie. When I play well, I tell you guys. And I tell you when I haven't played well. I've won tournaments out there when I wasn't playing my best. But if I play my best and don't win, there's no reason to be out here."
Has he ever played his best and not won?
"No," Woods said flatly.
He offered the same answer when asked if he ever played his best and came close to not winning. Woods said the best he has played was the 1997 Masters, which he won by 12 shots, and the 2000 U.S. Open, which he won by 15.
"And the British Open," he said of 2000 at St. Andrews, where he won by eight. "That was a good week."
TIGER AND PEYTON: Peyton Manning found himself in another big game Tuesday and failed to win, although this time he had a good excuse. He was playing golf against Tiger Woods.
The MVP quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts took part in the Bay Hill Invitational pro-am and got paired with Woods, a four-time winner at Bay Hill and the No. 1 player in the world.
They made an undisclosed bet over the final six holes, and Woods won with an approach into 18 inches on the final hole for a birdie.
"He stopped giving me tips on the last six holes when he was trying to beat me," Manning said. "You can see why he's such a great competitor."
They also threw a football, and Manning thinks Woods has a chance as a receiver.
"Somewhere in the slot," Manning said. "He can sneak around those linebackers. He's got good hands down the middle. He's tough."
Woods begged to differ.
"I'm not going over the middle," he said. "I wouldn't have a head by the time I came back to the huddle."
MONEY AND RANKING: The next two weeks on the PGA Tour loom large for players like Kevin Na, Joe Ogilvie and Colin Montgomerie, all of whom can get into the Masters.
The top 10 on the PGA Tour money list and the top 50 in the world ranking after The Players Championship get into Augusta National.
Ogilvie, who lost in a three-way playoff at the Honda Classic, moved up to No. 8 on the money list and is $149,710 ahead of Justin Leonard at No. 10. Ogilvie is playing Bay Hill, while Leonard is taking the week off.
Also at Bay Hill is Na, who is No. 11 on the money list and trails Leonard by $74,279.
Meanwhile, Monty is playing the TCL Classic in China on the European tour. He is No. 54 in the world ranking, and needs to move into the top 50 to get invited to The Players Championship. That would help his bid to return to the Masters, a major he has not missed since 1992.
PSYCHO-BABBLE: Belgian motivator Jos Vanstiphout has been known to speak brutally and bluntly to Ernie Els, although he might have crossed the line in Qatar.
The Big Easy and Vanstiphout had a "long and frank discussion" on the practice range Thursday, which followed Els' victory in Dubai and preceded his 73 in the first round of the Qatar Masters. Els rallied to win, shooting 65 to make up a five-shot deficit on the final day.
"He is supposed to give me encouragement, not what he gave me," Els told the Times of London. "It's supposed to be 10 minutes of good stuff before I play, but that was 12 minutes of the most ridiculous stuff I've ever thought of. I don't know what went through his head."
But Els said they patched things up and "he's still employed."
WANAMAKER ON DISPLAY: The Wanamaker Trophy will be on display this weekend at the Chicago Golf Show in advance of next year's PGA Championship at Medinah.
So what did Vijay Singh take home with him from Whistling Straits?
While the reigning Masters champion can keep his green jacket at home, and the British Open champion gets to keep the claret jug, the PGA champion gets a smaller version of the mammoth Wanamaker Trophy.
That wasn't always the case.
Walter Hagen won his fourth straight PGA Championship in 1927 at Cedar Crest in Dallas, but when it came time to return the big trophy, Hagen reported that it was "irrevocably lost."
Turns out he entrusted it to a cab driver to take to his hotel, and the Wanamaker Trophy never made it there. However, it was found two years later by a porter who was cleaning the cellar of L.A. Young & Co., a firm that made clubs bearing Hagen's name.
It will be seen by some 20,000 people at the Chicago Golf Show, but likely won't be left in the care of a cabbie.
DIVOTS: The Zurich Classic of New Orleans has raised its purse by $400,000 to $5.5 million. Vijay Singh will defend his title the last week in April at the TPC of Louisiana, which only opened last year.... David Toms has four consecutive finishes in the top 10, the longest streak of his career.... Woods will pick up the Mark McCormack Award on Wednesday for being No. 1 in the world for the most weeks in 2004. The ceremony will be at Isleworth during a Bay Hill dinner for past champions.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Three of the five PGA Tour events Tiger Woods has played this year were sponsored by three automobile companies other than the one he endorses.
FINAL WORD: "I'd love to be No. 1. I'm as close as I've been for a year now." - Ernie Els, who has a chance to be No. 1 for the first time in seven years.
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