Tiger thinking his way around a short course


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)—Tiger Woods had a stiff breeze at his back as hestood on the 13th tee, his hand resting on the cover of his driver as hecontemplated how to navigate the 354 yards to the green.

With his brawn, Woods could hit driver close to the green, maybe onto theputting surface, for an easy birdie.

He chose to use his brain.

Woods pulled out the 3-iron and hit another ball down the middle of thefairway. It’s a shot the fans have been used to seeing over the first two daysof the Australian Masters, where the world’s No. 1 player has opened with roundsof 66-68 to build a three-shot lead.

Why not go for it? The pin was on the front half of the green, and Woodsknew it would be a difficult pitch.

“If the pin was in the back part of the green, I would have probably hitdriver and gotten it down there, because then you have the entire green to pitchup,” he said.

He hit wedge to about 8 feet and missed the putt. On the same hole, RodPampling hit driver to about 40 yards short of the green and pitched the ballthrough the green and into the back bunker. He had to scramble for par. That wasall the evidence Woods needed that he made the right choice.

Such are the holes that make Woods enjoy a track like Kingston Heath, whichhad 7,059 yards is the shortest he has played all year. He has won at TorreyPines and Firestone more than any other courses in the world, and both areconsidered beasts.

Kingston Heath is for managing the game, not mashing the ball.

“I think it’s great,” Woods said. “I’ve certainly always enjoyed playinggolf courses where you have to think and plod your way along. As I said earlier,you don’t need a golf course of 7,500 yards for it to be difficult. With some ofthe angles you have out here, you can hit a lot of drivers and 3-woods and getthe ball down there, but there’s a price.

“If you miss the ball on the wrong side, it’s going to run into bushes orbunkers where it’s unplayable,” he said. “If you do lay it back, then you havepretty tough iron shots. There’s plenty of options out there. You just have topick one and go with it.”

It has been reminiscent of Royal Liverpool, where Woods chose to hit driveronly once over 72 holes on his way to victory in the 2006 British Open. And itis not unlike Muirfield Village this year, where the fairways were fast underhot weather, and Woods only occasionally hit driver off the tee and rallied fora four-shot victory.

He has hit driver five times each round at Kingston Heath, only whennecessary—either into the wind on a long par 4, or a par 5 where bunkers can’tbe reached, or on the ninth when he can take the fairway bunkers out of play.

That’s what he did Friday, and while he missed three birdie putts inside 10feet and twice had to hole tough putts for par, he doesn’t look as though he’sabout to give anyone much help.

Woods was at 10-under 134 and in the final group with Jason Dufner , theunheralded American who shot 67 and was three shots behind along with GregChalmers (69) and James Nitties (71) of Australia.

Woods hasn’t been perfect, and didn’t feel as though he hit the ball cleanlyin the second round. Even so, he said he has yet to miss a shot in the wrongspot, which would make it difficult to save par.

Kingston Heath began to show a different personality. The course wasrelatively soft on Thursday, mainly because of the forecast for sunshinethroughout the week. It was faster on Friday, the ball bouncing onto the greensinstead of spinning back.

“I know it’s going to get drier and drier as we go along,” Woods said.“I’m going to have to hit the ball really well, and on top of that, manage thegame well on these greens because they are going to start to get a little morespring to them.”

One of the Australians asked Woods where Kingston Heath would rate if itwere in America and received more publicity. He couldn’t answer the question,and not because he shies away from ranking anything.

“It would be hard to get it to stay this dry in America,” he said.“Because in America, they think green is perfect conditions for a golf course.Everyone tries to make the golf courses look like Augusta by soaking it. Whenyou do that, you make it softer, and you make it easier for us. So when you dothat, you have to make the golf courses longer.”

Chalmers was asked if Woods was tougher to beat on a course suited for bighitters, or on a course where thinking is required.

The Australian only smiled.

“Can you find any venue that he’s been to that he hasn’t had a greatadvantage?” Chalmers said. “He’s got power, and he’s got a great mental gameand a great short game. We could talk all day about how great he is. He’s divinginto a very deep talent pool. Unfortunately, my end is not as deep. But I’mhoping I can find the bottom.”