Woods in Search of Nissan Open Win

SportsGolfErnie ElsPaul StankowskiMatt GogelBrad FaxonPGA Tour

Tiger Woods still has all the shots, the same desire and the same goals. All he needs now is a little luck.

While Woods had to answer another ''slump'' question Wednesday on the eve of the Nissan Open, he also noted that his raw scoring average through four PGA Tour events is 68.88, the same number it was at this point last year.

The difference? Two victories.

Still, neither of his victories early in the 2000 season were routine. In the season-opening Mercedes Championships, Woods had to match Ernie Els with an eagle on the 72nd hole and a birdie on the first playoff hole. Then Woods won with a 40-foot birdie putt with 6 feet of break.

The other victory was at Pebble Beach, where Woods holed out with a wedge from 97 yards on the 15th hole, played the last four holes in 4 under and required a lot of help from front-runner Matt Gogel, who had a 40 on the back nine.

''I should never have won that tournament at Pebble last year,'' Woods said.

''Seven strokes down with seven to go, even if I make a few birdies, I shouldn't win that tournament. But I got lucky. That's what you need to win tournaments.''

While Woods has yet to win this year, he's not about to panic.

''I haven't won in four starts. That's not a slump,'' Woods said. ''If I went four years without winning, I think that's more of a slump.''

Eight players have won the eight tournaments this year, which include the Match Play Championship in Australia. The only player who has come close to winning twice early in the season is Davis Love III.

Love won for the first time in 62 tour events — now THAT'S a slump — at Pebble Beach, then lost in a three-man playoff the next week in San Diego.

Some players have suggested that Woods' phenomenal season of nine victories and three straight majors has caused others to work harder on their game, and they have closed the gap. Woods wasn't willing to take the credit.

''I think the guys are just realizing that in order to compete as a whole, there are so many good players and you're going to have to shoot better scores,'' he said. ''I don't think it's just because of my performance. Anyone can win, and it's proven out here. Anyone can go low. It's just a matter of what week you're going to go low.''

That was evident last week in Palm Springs, where Joe Durant set a 90-hole tour record by winning with a 36-under 324. Paul Stankowski shot a staggering 32-under 328 and still finished second.

''I'm glad I didn't play last week,'' Love said. ''I don't think anyone could have beaten Joe. That was meant to be his week.''

Love didn't plan to play this week, either, but money changed his mind — and not the $3.4 million purse at the 75th Nissan Open.

Love stands a good chance of padding his account with a strong finish this week, at least a better performance than Phil Mickelson.

The Nissan Open is the end of the West Coast Swing bonus program, which awards points for each finish on the West Coast and offers $500,000 to the winner.

Love is tied for the lead with Brad Faxon and Ernie Els, who are taking the week off. In second place is Mark Calcavecchia, who is getting his knee checked out and is not playing. Just 10 points behind is Mickelson.

Love and Mickelson swapped victories along the Pacific in consecutive weeks, with Love beating him at Pebble Beach, and Mickelson returning the favor in the playoff at Torrey Pines. Both said after the Buick Invitational that they would take a few weeks off.

Both changed their minds.

''With the money title, it's a little early to be worried about that,'' Love said. ''But I want to protect my position on the West Coast Swing. That's going to be an interesting sidebar. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in winning that.''

Woods is interested in just winning.

He never went more than three tournaments without winning a year ago and concedes that's a tough act to follow.

''All you can do is try as hard as you can and put yourself into position,'' he said. ''And if things work out, they work out.''

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