How to beat Tiger Woods

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The Independent Online

A small group of reporters crowded around Hal Sutton under the giant oak that spreads out in front of Augusta National's clubhouse.

What, they wondered once again, was the secret to beating Tiger Woods?

What they should have been asking, insisted Sutton, was the secret to beating Augusta National.

"I'm not playing him, I'm playing the golf course," said Sutton, the last man to beat Woods. "Nobody is teeing it up this week thinking about beating Tiger. They're thinking about the golf course."

There's a lot to think about this year at Augusta National, where the expanded rough is a topic of worry and consternation as are the winds expected to harden the slick greens even more.

Come the final round on Sunday, though, Woods' shadow figures to loom large once again among the Georgia pines - and in the minds of those still on the leaderboard.

This is a guy, after all, who has won 10 times since the last Masters.

"People think any event he plays in is Tiger's event to win," David Duval said. "Not too long ago, that was the case with me."

Woods is a heavy favourite to win his second green jacket as the Masters begins Thursday on a course that has been tweaked the last few years to try and protect par.

This year, the rough introduced in the previous Masters was allowed to grow over even more of the former fairways. It isn't deep, but it is enough to place a premium on accuracy and make it difficult to judge what a shot will do to greens that demand a perfect approach.

"I don't see the need to have to change it every year," Woods said. "Every year that I've played, they've done that."

Ironically, Woods thinks the changes favor a player like himself who hits the ball high and long.

They don't favour defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal, who has struggled trying to hit his driver in the fairway and doesn't need a narrower target to shoot for.

"It's going to be a tough week," Olazabal said.

While the course has again changed, there are also changes in the field.

Greg Norman has gone from tournament favorite to sentimental favorite in his 20th Masters. And Duval has gone from can't miss to can't win, quite a turnaround from last year when he had won four tournaments coming into Augusta.

"I don't know if I'm considered a favorite or not," Duval said. "My intentions are just to win the golf tournament."

For the third consecutive year, there's another a teen-age amateur sensation trying to win the coveted green jacket. This time it's Australia's Aaron Baddeley, who won the Australian Open last year as an 18-year-old amateur.

Other things never seem to change on the stunningly green fairways of Augusta National.

Arnold Palmer will be teeing it up in his 46th Masters. His first was in 1955 when he first pulled into Augusta National towing a trailer that he and his late wife, Winnie, lived in while playing the tour.

Palmer will be paired with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in a reunion of golf's Big Three of the 1960s, though none have an expectations of winning.

"I don't know if it's unusual that we're playing together," Palmer said. "But it's certainly unusual at Augusta."

Norman still has the expectation he can win, despite his many close calls and spectacular failures in 19 previous Masters.

His eagle on 13 in the final round last year put him in position to win, but Olazabal sank his own birdie putt and pulled away for his second Masters win.

At the age of 45, Norman hasn't won in two years and admits he has only eight majors left in which he will have a realistic chance. Still, he believes this may be the one.

"When I come in here, I feel very good about my chances," he said. "Whether it's Jack Nicklaus, who's won six times, or myself, who has never won it, we all want it.

"I feel good here," he said. "It's heaven."

Whether in the locker room or outside the ropes lining the fairways, though, the talk always gets back to Woods, who became the first player in 55 years to win six straight tournaments and has been in contention in almost every tournament he has played in.

Sutton managed to beat him at the Player's Championship, but on a course that seems ideally suited to his game, Woods may have to beat himself to avoid getting the green jacket slipped onto his arms by Olazabal on Sunday.

"I'm out there just trying to win a tournament and I can't control what they think," Woods said. "The only thing I can control is how I'm going to hit my golf shot."

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