Tiger back to tame nightmare course

Strange thought it might seem, Team Woods contains one unhappy person. He is Tiger's caddie, Steve Williams, and the explanation is that he is a New Zealander. Williams knew of the All Blacks' semi-final defeat by France on Sunday prior to the final round of the US Tour Championship.

Strange thought it might seem, Team Woods contains one unhappy person. He is Tiger's caddie, Steve Williams, and the explanation is that he is a New Zealander. Williams knew of the All Blacks' semi-final defeat by France on Sunday prior to the final round of the US Tour Championship.

"I told Steve, why don't we go out and take care of business and I'm sure you will feel a lot better," Woods said. "We did and he does feel a lot better but I guess the whole of New Zealand is not feeling too good right now."

Woods' victory in Houston was his seventh in America, eighth worldwide. The run includes his defeat of Sergio Garcia at the USPGA Championship in August, his NEC World Invitational title and two weeks ago at Disney. A win at the AmEx World Championship, starting tomorrow at Valderrama, would be his third in three weeks.

The 23-year-old has now led, or tied for the lead, 12 times with a round to play and won 11 of them. The only time Woods lost, to the anonymous Ed Fiori, was the first occasion just after he had turned pro three years ago. "I don't know if I intimidate anybody," Woods said. "I try to put pressure on them by hitting good shots. I am not immune to the feelings of nerves and pressure. Coming down the stretch, I feel the heat but I have been there enough times to understand how my body reacts, what my tendencies are, how far the ball in go."

At the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama, Woods won just one of his five matches and struggled on a course where the fairways are contained within a tunnel of cork trees. He is not after revenge, as such. "To go out there to show this course what I can do is not, I think, the right attitude," he said. "The right attitude is to try and give myself a chance to win on the back nine on Sunday by playing very smart and patient golf. Coming into the Ryder Cup two years ago I wasn't able to hit the shots at the right time and make the crucial putts. I'm playing better this time. I've got more shots, and better shots, in my repertoire."

It is a repertoire the world No 1 intends to keep expanding. "I don't think you are ever finished trying to improve. As soon as you feel like you're finished, then I guess you are finished because you have already put a limit on your ability. You should always strive to become a better player. Right now the changes in my game are becoming more natural."

When Colin Montgomerie, who has won six times in Europe this season, said this week that Woods was "so far ahead of anyone else in the world of golf", the Scot did not realise that the US money list winner has actually earned more than Monty's £1.2m in Order of Merit events in which he has played.

Fortunately for Montgomerie, Woods is not a member. Jesper Parnevik was until he became one of nine players to withdraw from the last of this season's three new World Championship events. The Swede will not now complete the minimum 11 events required for membership and was yesterday expelled from the Order of Merit.

John Bickerton, who left Jerez on Sunday thinking he had fallen to 21st on the Order of Merit, is now eligible and was making his way back to Spain. Such decisive administration from the European Tour was in contrast to the confusion over the size of the field here, which now seems to have been settled at 63. Another Midlander, Jeremy Robinson, has also been lifted up to 115th place which means he retains his Tour card and will not have to go back to the Qualifying School.

* The European Tour will head for Brazil for the first time next year when the Brazil 500 Years Open in São Paulo becomes part of the Order of Merit. The tournament, which marks the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese sailor Alvares Cabral, will take place from 30 March to 2 April.

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