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Woods Drawing Scrutiny

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods went from celebrated to scorned.
He teed it up in the Bay Hill Invitational with a chance to make history as the first player to win a tournament five straight times. By the end of the week, he had his worst finish in five years, a tie for 46th that left him 18 strokes behind.
It all led to another round of questions about his game.
What's wrong with Tiger?
'I just don't understand it,' Woods said Tuesday. 'That was the first time I finished out of the top 10 this year. Going into that week, no other player can say that. Every player has their hot streaks, their lulls. Last week was one of those times I didn't play well. That happens.'
Tiger WoodsStill, scrutiny on the world's No. 1 player picked up, probably because of what's on the horizon.
Coming off three straight rounds over par - the first time he has done that in a regular PGA Tour event - Woods leads a strong field at The Players Championship on a course that doesn't forgive even the slightest misses.
Two weeks later is the Masters, the major championship Woods has geared himself for since January.
His results suggest he will be the favorite this week, at Augusta National, everywhere he plays. Woods won the Match Play Championship, has three other top 10s and is fifth on the money list, despite playing only five times.
But Match Play is too fickle to gauge a game, and Woods had only one other good chance at winning this year.
Asked how he knows if he's peaking at the right time, Woods mentioned quality shots.
'When you make a golf swing, you don't feel like the ball was really there,' he said. 'And you look up, and it's right where it needs to be. That's a cool feeling. If you can do that more repeatedly heading into a major championship, you're looking pretty good.
'I'm starting to see some signs where that's coming back.'
Now would be a good place to start.
The Players Championship is widely regarded as the fifth major. Woods considers it the hardest tournament to win.
The 149-man field is among the strongest in golf, featuring 48 out of the top 50 in the world. The exceptions are U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, out with a wrist injury; and Rocco Mediate, who withdrew Tuesday with a bad back.
The Stadium Course on the TPC at Sawgrass simply won't allow players to get by without their best golf.
'You've really got to be very accurate off the tee, and your second shots are so important - same with Augusta,' Ernie Els said. 'If you have a good week, if you finish top 10, you can look at those players. They're going to have a good week at Augusta.
'If you're peaking, you're going to be well-prepared for Augusta.'
That's not always the case. Craig Perks won The Players Championship two years ago, then shot 81-71 at the Masters. Davis Love III won at Sawgrass last year, opened with a 77 at Augusta National and rallied to tie for 15th.
Woods is the only player to have won at Sawgrass and Augusta the same year.
But if he struggles this week, he probably will face even more questions about his game.
Part of that is due to his split from swing coach Butch Harmon a year ago. Dozens of players say privately that Woods needs to go back.
'Butch and I really didn't work a lot the last two or three years,' Woods said. 'Our biggest task was from '97 through '98, when I changed my swing. After that, it was basically kind of maintenance here and there. I've been doing that the last two years on my own.'
Even so, he is judged by a different standard than everyone else.
Woods was made aware of that last week when Vijay Singh and Els, the Nos. 2 and 3 players in the world, were never a factor at Bay Hill and escaped unnoticed.
Els missed the cut, ending his current streak at 30. Woods' record cut streak continues at 119.
'There wasn't any mention in the paper back home that Ernie missed the cut,' Woods said.
Els is trying to put that behind him, as well as what happened last year in The Players Championship.
The Big Easy won four times in the first two months, but injured his right wrist on a punching bag at home in London. He wound up having to pull out of The Players Championship.
This year, having won the Sony Open and the Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne, Els skipped the Match Play Championship to cut down on his global travel and be fresh for this important stretch of golf.
Missing the cut was a wake-up call.
'I've got to get over it and get going this week,' he said. 'It's a new week for everybody.'
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