Tiger Still Seeking Home Advantage

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 19, 2003, 5:00 pm
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Tiger Woods has proven his knee and his game are in fine shape following an eight-week surgical mend.
 
Now comes the real test.
 
Woods, fresh off his second career Buick Invitational victory, will try to capture his first Nissan Open title.
 
The worlds No. 1 has played this tournament ' five times as a professional ' more than any other PGA Tour event without winning.
 
As surprising as it might sound that Woods could play anywhere five times without taking home first prize, even more puzzling is that this is home.
 
Woods grew up in the greater Los Angeles area, and competed in his first tour event at Riviera in 1992. He missed the cut that year, and did the same in 93. Hes since never finished outside of the top 20, while posting a pair of runner-up finishes.
 
His closest chance to victory came in 1998, when he lost to Billy Mayfair in a playoff at Valencia Country Club.
 
'I've come close a couple of times,' he said. 'I've got a lot of great memories here.
 
'Playing here for my first professional tournament and birdieing the first hole. I remember that. I will never forget how heavy that club felt when I was taking my pracitce swing.'
 
The firm, fast fairways should help his cause this week. Woods struggled with his driver at Torrey Pines -- gradually improving day-by-day over his two fairways-hit performance in Round 1 -- and should be able to keep the erratic club in his bag. With the ball getting 'good run' through the short grass, he said he would use his 3-wood and long-irons more.
 
Woods made his Riviera arrival on Wednesday. He took a couple of days off to rest, practice and attend Tuesday nights double-overtime Los Angeles Lakers victory.
 
'I am comfortable where my swing is at and where my putting stroke is, so it is just a matter of getting the reps in,' he said.
 
He added that his knee was a little sore, but 'it's not painful.'
 
Woods will tee off Thursday at 12:37 PM local time alongside David Duval and Robert Damron. Coincidentally, Woods and Duval both pulled out of last year's Nissan.
 
Woods never started, citing fatigue, and Duval never finished, withdrawing during the final round because of food poisoning.
 
Often when other players are interviewed, Tiger is the subject of a question or two. Wednesday, it was Woods who was talking about someone else ' Ernie Els.
 
Els earned his fifth worldwide win of the year, last week, just as Woods debuted to rave reviews. With anticipation bubbling, the two may not meet head-to-head for another month.
 
Woods and Els are the top two seeds in next weeks WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and wouldnt play each other until the finals. That would prove unlikely, however, as Woods (in 2000) is the only top-15 seed to make it to the last match in the tournaments four-year history.
 
The two are scheduled to compete in the Dubai Desert Classic in two weeks, but the climate of war has all plans on hold.
 
I think we are both up in the air. Anyone who is playing that tournament, we are all up in the air,' Woods said. 'We would like to go and support the tournament, but if it is a dangerous situation, then we are not going.'
 
If one or the other opts out of the desert, they will compete against one another in a medal-play format for the first time this year at Bay Hill, in four weeks.
 
But for now, Tiger is focused on the task at hand. With Ernie relaxing with family in Hawaii, Woods is hoping to find some comfort at home.
 
'It's something I've always wanted to do,' he said about winning this event. 'Hopefully, I can get it done this week.'
 
Related Links
  • PGA Tour Statistical Preview
  • Full coverage of the Nissan Open
  • Getty Images

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