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Woods Shooting Sizzling Rounds as Warmups for Majors

June 12, 1997|THOMAS BONK and BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BETHESDA, Md. — If you believe in signs, here's one you can stick on the bumper of your Tiger Woods bandwagon.

Woods worked with his coach, Butch Harmon, for three days last week at Lochinvar in Houston, then decided to see if he had learned anything.

Apparently he did.

Woods shot a 63 with one bogey and missed a three-footer for a birdie.

"So I'm playing pretty good right now," he said.

The week before the Masters, Woods played a round with Mark O'Meara on their home course at Isleworth in Florida. He shot a 59.

Maybe that's why Woods' confidence level seems to be rising at the same rate as the humidity at Congressional.

"I'm driving it well, and I know my iron game will come around if I drive it well because that's just what you have to do out here.

"Put it this way: You can go around this place and not hit your irons well and shoot a good score if you're in the fairway all day."

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After seeing him demolish Augusta National, Colin Montgomerie said Woods probably will be comfortable playing at Augusta National for a long time.

But Congressional? Doglegs and narrow fairways?

"Here, it is different [because] it takes possibly his greatest asset, which is length, more out of the equation and gives us mere mortals more of an opportunity to compete.

"Put it this way: The playing field is more level here than it would be at an Augusta-type setup. So, we're looking forward to how he's going to perform and how we're going to perform against him. Because we didn't perform at all against him at Augusta."

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Jack Nicklaus made a fatherly admission Wednesday on the eve of his first U.S. Open in which he will compete against one of his sons, Gary.

"I've always gone into a tournament thinking I could win . . . but this is the only golf tournament I've gone into hoping I was second," he said. "Somebody asked me that if I needed a four-foot putt on the final hole to beat Gary, would I miss it, and I said yes."

Nicklaus paused.

"But Gary heard this and said, 'Fat chance. You've never let me beat you before.' "

The Nicklauses are the fourth father-son tandem to compete in a U.S. Open, and the first since 1982.

Neither figures to finish high; the father has made the cut in only two of four regular PGA Tour events this year and the son has made the cut only twice in his 21 PGA Tour events.

The senior Nicklaus has won four U.S. Open championships and finished second in four others, but is suffering from hip problems and said this probably would be his last regular Open appearance.

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There are five former UCLA players in the Open field, two short of Ohio State's total.

The Bruins are Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf, Scott McCarron, Roger Gunn and 18-year-old amateur Jason Semelsberger. The Buckeyes are John Cook, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Nicklaus, Chris Perry, Chris Smith, Ted Tryba and Chris Wollman.

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Lines form early in the morning just for the chance to enter the main merchandise tent next to the driving range. There is plenty of merchandise on hand--11 18-wheelers full of the stuff are in the parking lot.

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Woods said he expects to win every tournament he enters. But if he doesn't win this week, Woods thinks he knows who might.

Woods listed Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Tom Lehman, Steve Elkington, Colin Montgomerie and Justin Leonard.

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