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Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, January 11, 2001

H A W A I I _ G O L F

Mercedes Hawaii

Ready, set,
tee it up at

Tiger's goal remains the same:
to improve as a golfer
each year

By Bill Kwon

KAPALUA, Maui -- The Tiger hunt began today in the first round of the Mercedes Championships as 32 other PGA Tour winners from the 2000 season took dead aim at the world's best golfer.

Catching Tiger Woods won't be easy. He's not only excited about the coming year, he feels he can get even better than last year.

Considering he won a record $9.1 million and nine tournaments, including three majors, it's hard to believe it can be possible to surpass what he did in 2000. But all things appear possible to Woods because of his talent and mindset.

No wonder that when asked to rank his 2000 performance on a scale from 1 to 10, Woods said, "Not bad." Any number you'd give it? "Not bad."

For the rest of his peers, Woods' historic year would have been something to die for. For Woods, it's "what's next?"

His goal for 2001?

"Simple," Woods said. "Just try to get better than what I did last year. That doesn't necessarily mean results, just get better as a player."

Saying it is one thing. Woods backs it up with eye-opening results.

Associated Press
Tiger Woods shows off his second new
hairdo of 2001 -- shaved. No more blond.

"Each and every year that I've played golf, I've become better," Woods said. "Winning never gets old. I've never enjoyed losing. I've always enjoyed winning."

And he'll never get complacent, Woods says, if he's always trying to improve his game and get better. He's even working on a few new shots, but won't say what they are.

"You'll see," he said smiling. "I've hit them before in competition, but I really haven't hit it down the stretch in a tournament yet."

Woods is working on the inner game of golf, eschewing high-tech equipment, which he recognizes is making others longer and straighter off the tee.

Woods admits his equipment is old school -- shorter club lengths, weaker lofts.

"If I wanted to hit the ball further ... 20 (yards) further, I could put a graphite (shaft), but I can't control the ball."

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson, who was a distant second to Woods in victories (four) and money ($4.7 million) swears by the newer equipment and the new Titleist golf ball. He also has added a fourth wedge to his bag because of the distance he's getting off the tee.

"With the new technology, I think I can shoot some really low numbers this year," Mickelson said.

Not just him, everyone else on the tour.

"We're going to see a lot of tournament records broken this year," Mickelson added.

"Tiger has done that on his own, but I think we'll see a lot of guys partaking in that (record-breaking)."

So as far as Mickelson's concerned, Tiger's not the only one who has to be chased.

Tiger's the one to beat in any tournament he plays, according to Mickelson. But a lot of players are now closing the gap because of advanced equipment.

"I think this year will be an interesting year to see if that's the case," said Mickelson, golf's all-time money leader without winning a major.

David Duval, also seeking his first victory in a major, disagrees.

"You're going to see some spectacular play on any given day, any given week," Duval said.

But a lot of tournament records? No.

Paul Azinger, who won the 2000 Sony Open to qualify for this event, concurs.

"Phil's an enthusiastic guy. He loves to talk about how the ball is helping him. But he'd be good with a gutta-percha ball," Azinger said.

"What equipment has done is really bring the whole tour closer together as a pack. Whether it's brought anybody closer to Tiger, I don't think so. He's completely out-putting the tour and has got a lot more power.

"He's the most confident guy in the planet right now. All that equates to a consistency beyond belief."

Tiger put it the best on whether equipment makes all the difference:

"The guys are still going to have to make a few putts."

Tell Ernie Els about it.

He watched Woods sink a 40-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to win last year's playoff after both eagled the 72nd hole to finish in a tie.

Who knows what would have happened if the roles were reversed, Els wondered wistfully. "I probably would have won a major."

Last year's event was certainly a portent of the year to come. Els, who finished third on the 2000 money list, had five runner-up finishes, four of them in tournaments Woods won.

"If it weren't for one guy," Els said, obviously referring to Woods.

It could be very important for the guy who wins here this week, according to Els.

Last year, it was Tiger, who practically ran the table on the PGA Tour by winning the first of his nine tournaments here.

No wonder, Duval, in the weekend he spent with Woods at a Las Vegas blackjack table before coming here, pointed out when asked about the amount of chips they each had:

"My stack was smaller. It was also of a different color."

Woods to skip Sony

Tiger Woods will skip next week's Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club. Phil Mickelson and David Duval aren't playing in it, either. ... Jesper Parnevik teamed with amateurs Ray Beshoff, Ray Burke, Steve Smythe and Fred Rosen to win the pro-am competition yesterday. ... This is the 49th Tournament of Champions and the third at the Kapalua Plantation, the only par-73 course on the PGA Tour. ... David Duval holds the tournament record for 72 holes (266) and the course record (63).

Promotional consideration

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has joined the PGA Tour in an official marketing relationship to help boost six men's professional golf tournaments in the 50th State.

The six events -- Mercedes Championships, Sony Open, MasterCard Championship, Senior Skins Game, Kaanapali Classic and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf - are the cornerstone of the state's $1 billion golf industry.

"We are delighted to have this formal relationship with the Hawaii Tourism Authority," said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

The agreement extends through the 2006 season and marks a first for the PGA Tour, which has no marketing affiliation with any other state.

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