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Double Defense for Tiger - and a Hangover

2007 WGC CA ChampionshipMIAMI -- Not even Tiger Woods was sure how he would introduce himself on the first tee at Doral, only that the words 'defending champion' would be appropriate in some capacity.
But defending champion of what?
Or is it where?
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods had some sand issues in Wednesday's practice round. (WireImage)
Woods has won the last two years on the Blue Monster, beating Phil Mickelson in a terrific duel in 2005, then holding off David Toms to win by one shot the following season. Both those victories came at regular PGA TOUR events featuring a 144-man field.
Now this is called the CA Championship, and it's a World Golf Championship with a 73-man field.
It used to be known as the American Express Championship, and Woods has won that tournament the last two years, too. He beat John Daly in a playoff at Harding Park in 2005, then blew away his alleged competition at The Grove outside London last fall to win by eight.
'Multiple defending champion?' Woods asked as he walked out the door. 'Have I ever done that? I don't know. Go look it up.'
No matter how anyone looks at it, he figures to be a strong favorite when the tournament begins Thursday. The debate is whether his advantage stems from being at Doral or being at a World Golf Championship.
Woods practically owns the WGC events, especially this format that invites the top 50 in the world ranking and leading money winners from the six major tours around the world.
The CA Championship, name change notwithstanding, is one of three tournaments he has won five times. The others are the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines and the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
What makes this one more unique is he has won on five courses in four countries -- Valderrama in Spain (1999), Mount Juliet in Ireland (2002), Capital City Club in Atlanta (2003), Harding Park and The Grove.
Why so much success?
'I don't know. He just plays well at them, I guess,' Sergio Garcia said. 'You ask him and let me know.'
It helps to have fewer players to beat. Only 73 players have qualified this week, and some of them -- Pram Meesawat of Thailand and Anton Haig of South Africa -- are making their U.S. debut in professional golf.
But if that were the case, it would be easier on everybody.
'Usually, that's how many are here once they make a cut,' Toms said.
No doubt, the tournament is different this year. Doral usually leads off the Florida Swing, and this year it's in the clean-up spot. Instead of players just starting to think about the Masters, the first major is right around the corner.
Toms noticed something else during his practice round on the Blue Monster -- quiet.
There was no pro-am, so players were able to play practice whenever they wanted. And all 73 are guaranteed a paycheck this week because the WGCs have no cut.
'Even though it's a very important event and very big event, it seems like guys approach it a little more low-key,' Toms said. 'I don't know if it's because there's no cut or they have got that guaranteed check or whatever it might be. It has a nice atmosphere to it.'
Woods had his own atmosphere Wednesday morning.
The size of his gallery was only about 300 people, and their attention was divided inside and outside the ropes. They had their choice between the No. 1 golfer in the world playing a practice round, and the No. 1 tennis player in the world watching him.
Roger Federer walked the back nine with Woods, both IMG clients who struck up a friendship last summer and had dinner Tuesday night on Woods' yacht. Woods said he will be in Key Biscayne on Saturday night when Federer plays his first match in the Sony Ericsson Open.
'It was great to have him out here,' Woods said. 'I think he's a wonderful supporter of golf, and I think it's pretty neat when you have probably the most dominant athlete on the planet out there in your gallery.'
Federer even got a chance to see Woods hit a tee shot into the water.
He missed the ending of Bay Hill last week, which has been somewhat of a hangover for Woods. Trying to catch the leaders, he took two double bogeys and a triple bogey on the back nine on his way to a 43 for a final round 76.
It was particularly ugly at the end -- Woods took bogey on the 16th, hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th for a double bogey, then hit his approach into the lake next to the 18th green for a triple bogey.
'But the other 69 holes, I made some mistakes along the way that I need to rectify,' Woods said. 'You can't look at it just one hole, one shot. Because I made too many mistakes throughout the entire tournament that going into Sunday, I probably should have been right next to the lead, if not leading.'
Woods said some of those errors were club selection on some of the holes, what he hit off the tee, his approach shots.
'I kept making silly mistakes -- mistakes I don't normally make,' he said.
That would be the second straight tournament that he erred on the mental side, coming off a third-round loss in the Accenture Match Play Championship when he said he failed to detect a ball mark in the line of a 4-foot putt against Nick O'Hern.
Those are issues he will want to sort out with the Masters only two weeks away.
Given his history at Doral -- and this tournament -- it might not be a bad time for him to fix it.
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