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Sutton Expectations

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Hal Sutton knows the heavy burden of expectation. Eighteen years ago, he was the next Jack Nicklaus. A blond hair, blue eyed, savior of golf. A U.S. Amateur champion who won both THE PLAYERS Championship and the PGA Championship in just his second full season on the PGA Tour.
 
Before the age of 30, the Shreveport, La., native had garnered seven titles in five years ' an impressive feat, BT (Before Tiger).
 
Then, seemingly in his prime, Sutton went eight years without a victory. His attitude was even poorer than his play. He loathed his craft.
 
Suttons disdain grew from expectation. Expectation from others. Expectation he believed he had to live up to.
 
It is for that reason, Sutton has a soft spot under his hardened exterior for Tiger Woods.
 
I always sound like Im defending Tiger, and Im going to step out on a limb and say a few things, Sutton said during his Wednesday press conference at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
 
I see Tiger being frustrated right now because people are saying that hes not doing this and Tigers not doing that.
 
I see all of that because Ive been there, not nearly to the degree that Tiger has had. But be careful how you (the media) handle this, because you might make him hate the game before its over with. And we need Tiger in the game.
 
Of course, dont think that Sutton spends his days in full support of his golfing buddy. No, professionally speaking, the 42-year-old Sutton still wants to whip the pants off the 25-year-old top-ranked player.
 
He has precedent.
 
Last season, Sutton added another chapter to his legend by beating the worlds best head-to-head for his second career PLAYERS Championship victory ' 17 years after he first.
 
Faced with repetitively annoying questions about Woods invincibility, Sutton stood firm, publicly denouncing Tigers intimidation factor.
 
I can beat him, Sutton said prior to the final round. He might be the best player in the world, but that doesnt mean he cant be beat.
 
Leading Tiger by one, and playing with him in Sundays final pairing, Sutton opened up a three-shot lead through 11 holes before rain forced the suspension of play until Monday.
 
As a new week began, an old story seemed to be unfolding. Woods eagled the par-5 16th to move to within one of Suttons lead. But true to his word, Sutton prevailed.
 
Still up one on the par-4 finishing hole, Sutton stiffed his approach shot.
 
'Be the right club today,' Sutton urged. It landed about 8 feet in front of the hole. Sutton let out a 'Yes!' and gave a hard hand slap to his longtime caddie, Freddie Hughes.
 
Woods looked over and gave him a thumbs-up.
 
Tiger didnt win that week, but he did win ten times worldwide in 2000; nine of which came on the PGA Tour.
 
His last year, a realistic comparison? I dont think it is, said Sutton, who currently stands in ninth place on the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
I mean, I said last year that I felt like this was going to be a pivotal year, because I felt like, that Tiger had raised the bar so high that not even himself could live up to those expectations and the challenge of trying to meet everybody elses expectations.
 
Woods won his first event of the season at last weeks Bay Hill Invitational. It snapped an eight-start winless streak on the Tour; and ended questions about a slump.
 
Eight starts without win ' a slump? Try eight years. Sutton did, and now hes better for it.
 
Since turning 40, Sutton has won five times, including last years PLAYERS and the 1998 TOUR Championship.
 
I enjoy the game a lot now, said Sutton, who has also qualified for a pair of Presidents Cup teams and the victorious 99 Ryder Cup squad.
 
Sometimes when youve had a lot of struggles in what you do, you appreciate being able to get back a lot more than you would have.
 
I just feel like I had a taste of it at one point and lost it and didnt know if I would ever get it back. And to be able to play at a level that when you go out there, you feel like youve earned everybodys respect and they look at you as a worthy competitor, thats exciting, to be able to get back to that point.
 
Read the Entire Transcript of Hal Sutton's Wednesday Press Conference