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Woods slumping? Don't be silly

He says he has shaken off the Dubai Open. Competitors ridicule the notion he has fallen at all.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001


ORLANDO -- Despite efforts to have us believe otherwise through two years of unbelievable golf, Tiger Woods has a human side, a show of emotion that emerged in the aftermath of his meltdown at the Dubai Open 10 days ago.

Woods was actually distraught, having blown the European Tour event to Denmark's Thomas Bjorn by missing the 18th fairway with a wild drive, chipping out, then splashing his approach in a water hazard for a shocking double bogey that cost him a victory.

So upset was the man who won nine tournaments in 2000, including three major championships, that the trophy presentation had to be delayed while Woods composed himself.

Woods had a lengthy trip back from United Arab Emirates, but he didn't let the loss linger for long. And he certainly is not fretting heading into this week's Bay Hill Invitational, despite going a whopping -- for Woods -- eight PGA Tour events without a win.

"There's no denying that it stung," Woods said Tuesday after a rain-shortened pro-am round at the Bay Hill Club, where he will attempt to defend his title starting Thursday. "When you have a chance of winning and don't, obviously it doesn't feel good.

"But the great thing about that tournament is I really started to play well. I really putted well. I shot three consecutive 64s (one in the pro-am). I made 24 birdies. I felt like my game was progressing. I was pretty excited about that. On Sunday, I just didn't get it going. I had a chance. I made a mistake and didn't win. It was a good learning process, one that I will file back in the memory banks."

Woods has little trouble storing information. He knows, for instance, that he is 75 under par this year, that his scoring average is close to that of a year ago at this point, that there is a fine line between winning and coming close.

Even putting, perceived to be his problem, is virtually the same. Woods is averaging 29.3 putts per round, compared with 29.13 a year ago.

"I just haven't gotten the right breaks at the right time," Woods said. "And you need to have that in order to win. I got some good breaks last year and was able to win a couple of tournaments. I really wasn't supposed to win Pebble Beach (where he came from seven strokes back). I needed some help, and I was able to get some help. That's what you need to have happen. I haven't really had that, or I've messed up on my own."

Nobody is exactly feeling sorry for Woods, whose worst finish this season is a tie for 13th. He is 19th on the money list with $545,857.

"I saw a magazine cover that said, "What's wrong with Tiger?' " Tom Lehman said. "I had my Sharpie (pen) in my pocket. I took it out and wrote, N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Exclamation point. Underlined it. Nothing. Nothing's wrong with Tiger. Everybody expects Superman. He's a human being. He's a phenomenal golfer. He's not Superman. He's still shooting great scores."

Woods raised the bar. He won nine times last season, eight the year previous. He has 24 victories in less than five full seasons as a pro.

And yet golf remains a game in which a player loses far more than he wins.

"When he wins again, which he will soon," Arnold Palmer said, "everybody will start writing that the slump wasn't so long after all."

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