Tiger makes quick trip to Ireland for bonding

Friday, September 1, 2006

Tiger Woods settled over his ball in the ninth fairway and was ready to pull the trigger on a 7-iron when he broke the silence with an important question.

"What was the yardage again?" he said to caddie Steve Williams.

"I don't remember," the caddie replied as Woods was at the top of his swing.

It was only a pro-am round Thursday in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass., hardly the time for Woods to be grinding, even on his lone day of practice before going after his fifth straight victory. And it hardly mattered. The shot was a low draw into the breeze that finished 12 feet from the hole for a birdie.

Four days after winning his fourth straight tournament, Woods appeared to be running out of steam, and for good reason.

He left Firestone on Sunday for a charter flight to Ireland -- his first time on a commercial plane since 1998 -- with the rest of the U.S. Ryder Cup team for two days of practice, poker and Guinness at The K Club. He returned Wednesday to the Deutsche Bank Championship, which gives the charitable proceeds to his foundation.

"If we didn't start this thing on Friday, I would have been in a world of hurt," Woods said. "I would have been tired. I still am tired. It's nice that I've got a late tee time tomorrow, so that helps out a lot. But I'll be good to go come game time. Once the adrenaline kicks in and all that stuff goes away, you just play."

No one has been playing better.

Woods is 70 under par in his last four tournaments, two of them majors, all of them victories. The most taxing victory was the last one, when he lost a three-shot lead with three holes to play before outlasting Stewart Cink in a four-hole playoff at the Bridgestone Invitational.

Crisscrossing the Atlantic Ocean for the sake of male bonding might not be the ideal way to keep alive a winning streak. Then again, it isn't the first time Woods has tinkered with a successful formula.

The last time he was on this kind of a roll was six years ago. Woods closed the 1999 season with four straight victories, then won his first two starts of 2000 at Kapalua and Pebble Beach. Going for No. 7 at Torrey Pines, he gave his regular caddie the week off and had Bryon Bell, his best friend from junior high school, carry the bag.

Woods had won the Buick Invitational the year before with his buddy on the bag, and felt Bell had a right to defend, too. They were tied for the lead with five holes to play until Phil Mickelson pulled away to stop the streak.

The Friday start is because the Deutsche Bank Championship ends on Labor Day.

LPGA tour

Annika Sorenstam got off to a good start in the opening round of the State Farm Classic. Another Swede had an even better finish.

Sorenstam was five strokes behind Maria Hjorth, who shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday for a one-shot lead over Dina Ammaccapane, Nina Reis and Brittany Lang.

Lorena Ochoa was at 5 under, and 2004 winner Cristie Kerr was another shot back.

-- The Associated Press

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