Tiger Trying to Stay on Fire

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2005 Deutsche Bank ChampionshipNORTON, Mass. -- Tiger Woods settled over his ball in the ninth fairway and was ready to pull the trigger on a 7-iron when he broke the silence with an important question.
 
'What was the yardage again?' he said to caddie Steve Williams.
 
'I don't remember,' the caddie replied as Woods was at the top of his swing.
 
It was only a pro-am round Thursday in the Deutsche Bank Championship, hardly the time for Woods to be grinding, even on his lone day of practice before going after his fifth straight victory. And it hardly mattered. The shot was a low draw into the breeze that finished 12 feet from the hole for a birdie.
 
Four days after winning his fourth straight tournament, Woods appeared to be running out of steam, and for good reason.
 
He left Firestone on Sunday for a charter flight to Ireland -- his first time on a commercial plane since 1998 -- with the rest of the U.S. Ryder Cup team for two days of practice, poker and Guinness at The K Club. He returned Wednesday to the Deutsche Bank Championship, which gives the charitable proceeds to his foundation.
 
'If we didn't start this thing on Friday, I would have been in a world of hurt,' Woods said. 'I would have been tired. I still am tired. It's nice that I've got a late tee time tomorrow, so that helps out a lot. But I'll be good to go come game time. Once the adrenaline kicks in and all that stuff goes away, you just play.'
 
No one has been playing better.
 
Woods is 70 under par in his last four tournaments, two of them majors, all of them victories. The most taxing victory was the last one, when he lost a three-shot lead with three holes to play before outlasting Stewart Cink in a four-hole playoff at the Bridgestone Invitational.
 
Crisscrossing the Atlantic Ocean for the sake of male bonding might not be the ideal way to keep alive a winning streak. Then again, it isn't the first time Woods has tinkered with a successful formula.
 
The last time he was on this kind of a roll was six years ago. Woods closed the 1999 season with four straight victories, then won his first two starts of 2000 at Kapalua and Pebble Beach. Going for No. 7 at Torrey Pines, he gave his regular caddie the week off and had Bryon Bell, his best friend from junior high school, carry the bag.
 
Woods had won the Buick Invitational the year before with his buddy on the bag, and felt Bell had a right to defend, too. They were tied for the lead with five holes to play until Phil Mickelson pulled away to stop the streak.
 
'You always want to keep going ... if you're on a positive streak,' Woods said. 'It's nice to try to keep that run going. But you also have to understand not to get ahead of yourself, understand what it took for you to even get it started, and then stay in that frame of mind.'
 
The Friday start is because the Deutsche Bank Championship ends on Labor Day.
 
Even though the tournament was created in 2003 with the Tiger Woods Foundation as the beneficiary, Woods has never had great success on the TPC of Boston. He has been in contention only once in three years, that one in 2004 when Vijay Singh beat him head-to-head in the final round to win by three shots and replace Woods at No. 1 in the world.
 
Singh didn't return to defend his title last year because he injured himself playing table tennis, and the 43-year-old Fijian still feels like he owns the place.
 
'In my heart, I feel like I'm defending,' Singh said.
 
Woods, Singh and Adam Scott, who won the inaugural tournament in 2003, give the Deutsche Bank the appearance of having a strong field with three of the top five players in the world ranking.
 
But it bottoms out quickly. Except for the J.J. Henry, who grew up in Connecticut, the rest of the Ryder Cup team is taking this week off and will get in a final tuneup either next week in Canada or at the 84 Lumber Classic. The top European players are in Germany this week, the final event to qualify for the Ryder Cup team.
 
That leaves only four of the top 30 in the world ranking, and nine of the top 50.
 
The defending champion is Olin Browne, who won last year for his first PGA Tour victory in six years. It might be tougher on Browne this year because of recent rain that has left the course soggy and playing much longer.
 
'The condition of the course was wonderful, but it was cold and wet, and I kept looking at my caddie, 'Buck, didn't we hit 9-iron here?' And I had a 4-iron in my hand. Hopefully, the course will dry out a little bit.'
 
A soft course might mean more drivers for Woods, although he has shown capable of hitting all the clubs in his bag quite well. He relied on his irons at Hoylake, his putter at Medinah and found his distance control to be the thread holding everything in place.
 
Asked for comparisons to his last winning streak, Woods said it was too early.
 
'I'm still midway through the season,' he said. 'I've still got some more tournaments to play after this. When I won four in a row then, I was done, and the next tournament was going to be the (season-opening) Mercedes. This is a little different. I'm still in the season.'
 
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