Tiger Woods, as well as rewriting the record books, is altering golfing clichÃ©s. Like the one that says that a tournament only starts on Sunday. Woods has as good as won by the first day at times, according to Colin Montgomerie. "The American tour is watching for one name," he said.
When Woods appeared on the leaderboard only one stroke off the lead at the Bay Hill Invitational after the first round last week, Montgomerie added, "the view in the locker-room, without saying it out loud, was that the tournament was finished. It was who was going to finish second and that's how it turned out."
Woods enters the game's richest tournament, the $6 million (£3.95m) US Players Championship here today, with three wins in six starts this season. The field is one of the best ever, with only the reclusive Jumbo Ozaki missing from the top 50 in the world. If the suspicion is that he is more concerned about the US Masters in two weeks' time, Woods said: "When I turn up at a tournament, it is to win."
In his three previous appearances here he has not done better than 10th and has failed to break 70 over the Stadium course in 12 rounds. "This course can be very difficult and I've not always played well. It's a combination," Woods said. "I have probably been too conservative in the past. There are times you have to take dead aim and I'm hitting it all right at the moment."
"Tomorrow will be an interesting day to find out what he is going to do," added Montgomerie. "This is not a course where you can attack. If you do, you can get in some real trouble. It will be an important for everyone but we'll all be watching one particular score. I am not saying we are playing for second place, and certainly not if he shoots 73. But if he shoots 63, we might be."
"I'm surprised if people thought it was over after one round last week," Woods said. "You maybe want people to think that but you can't look at it that way. You have to play against the whole field. A few guys might think that but not everyone."
If there is one American player who refuses to be intimidated by Woods's mere presence it must be the world No 2, David Duval. "It's written that Tiger's a pro and everybody else is a kind of wannabe," Duval said. "You won't find a golfer in his right mind who will name someone other than Tiger as being the best guy out here but I don't think the void is as great as people think."
Whether it is coincidence or not Duval has not won since last April. His victory here last year made him, briefly, the world No 1, a position he appeared not to enjoy but wants to regain.
"It's ridiculous to think that I didn't want to be the best player," he said. "Are you kidding me? That's what drives me. I've won all the events considered just below the majors, now it is time to move on to those." To that end Duval is on a strict diet and fitness regime. He runs, works out, lifts weights, eats three small meals a day and drinks protein shakes. He has cut out refined sugar, pasta and Diet Cokes and no longer chews tobacco.
"I wanted to see how fit I could get. I figured it would help my golf but it is also about self-discipline. It's not secretive. It's simple. You are eating ice cream, I'm not. You're asleep at 6am, I'm training. I'm working my ass off."
Montgomerie, who was 29th at Bay Hill last week, has now gone 61 events on the US PGA Tour without winning. At least there is no danger of him being banned like a racehorse called Zippy Chippy. The holder of the less-than-proud record for the longest losing streak in US Thoroughbred racing - 86 races and no wins - was this week prohibited from extending it further "for the protection of the betting public".
"It is just as important to me as to anyone else here but it is not something I think about every evening when I go to bed," Montgomerie said. "Whatever the number of tournaments is, I'm still 25 or 30 short of Tom Watson's first win in America and he didn't do too bad. Hopefully, I've proved myself to a certain extent."
Montgomerie admitted he was not as sharp as he would have liked, or as he has been in the past after a long winter break, in his first three tournaments. In two full practice days here, he spent most time working on his putting with Paul Marchand, his coach. "I was not following through with my putter so the ball was not getting to the hole," he explained. "If you can get the pace right, you are half-way there. So far, we haven't been half-way there yet."
He also turned back to an old practice technique of holing 100 two-foot putts. "I use to do it more than I do. If I miss one I go back to square one. I do it from two feet. I believe Tiger does it from six feet."
* The European Tour makes its first visit to South America today when the Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open gets underway with last year's Ryder Cup player Jarmo Sandelin hoping for a win before playing for Europe in the Ballesteros Trophy next month.
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