Woods Among Greats to Win Western

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With a full century in the books, the 101st Cialis Western Open begins this week at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, Ill.
 
The tournament is the longest-running regular event on the PGA Tour, and the second oldest in the country, trailing the U.S. Open by three years.
 
While the Players Championship may be regarded as the fifth major, no tournament outside of the four major championships has a pedigree comparable to the one at the Western.
 
Nearly every notable name to play professionally has counted the Western Open among his victories. Its list of past champions includes: Hagen, Sarazen, Nelson, Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson and Woods.
 
Theres also Armour, Mangrum, Middlecoff, Casper, Irwin, Kite, Crenshaw and Price.
 
The great ones win the Western; and many win it again -- and sometimes again and again and again.
 
Walter Hagen won it five times; Ben Hogan twice; Sam Snead twice; Arnold Palmer twice; Billy Casper four times; Jack Nicklaus twice; Tom Watson three times; Nick Price twice; Tiger Woods three times.
 
Woods won his first title in 1997, and then again in 99. He added a third victory last year.
 
Its gradually gotten easier for him in this event.
 
He held a share of the 54-hole lead in 97, before shooting a Sunday 68 to win by three. Two years later, he was tied after two rounds, led outright after three, and won by three. And last year, he led from start to finish, tying the 18-hole course record (63 in the first round), setting the 54-hole tournament scoring record (18-under 198), and tying the 72-hole tournament record (21-under 267) along the way.
 
It would be hard to believe it could get an easier this year ' especially given the way Woods has been playing of late. Even when he has been contending, hes made it very difficult on himself to do so.
 
Woods entered last years Western answering similar questions to the ones he is facing this week.
 
I'm walking around, people are asking me that question: when are you going to start playing good again, he said in his pre-tournament press conference a year ago.
 
But while the questions still persist, they may be more legitimate this time around.
 
Woods had three wins heading to Cog Hill in 2003; he has one this year. He was hitting 64.3 percent of his fairways this time a year ago; hes down to 57.6 percent this year. He was hitting almost 68 percent of his greens in regulation; now its just over 64 percent.
 
Believe it or not, even his scrambling stats are down this year. He saved par 63.2 percent of the time when failing to hit a green in regulation last year at this time. Hes done so 59.1 percent so far this year.
 
Putting has been his lone savior and the only thing that has kept him competitive ' other than his desire. He is ranked in the top 5 in putting average per green hit in regulation, which has kept him in the top 5 in scoring average; though, he led the tour in scoring average last year at this time.
 
Price is the last person to successfully defend his Western title, doing so in 1994. Prior to him, it was Nicklaus in 68.
 
Woods wasnt the only one who won at the Western in 2003. Eight players qualified for the British Open based on their finishes at Cog Hill, including Ben Curtis.
 
You know how that worked out for him.
 
This year, however, the Western will not serve as a British Open qualifier. While the Western winner will get a free pass to Royal Troon in two weeks, the Royal and Ancient Club decided to use an actual qualifying tournament in the United States to fill up spots.
 
Twelve players will qualify for the Open Championship Monday from a 36-hole event at Congressional Country Club.
 
It's still a big week, however, for those trying to play their ways to Scotland. Seven players will be exempted into the Open through a special cumulative money list that includes earnings from the Players Championship and the five most recent PGA Tour events, culminating at the Western Open.
 
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