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With His Knee OK, Tiger Will Do L.A.

Woods enters Nissan Open, which he has never won, but he still has to see how he feels after this weekend.

February 15, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

LA JOLLA — It is the only PGA Tour event he has played at least five times without winning, but Tiger Woods is going to give the Nissan Open another try.

Woods waited until the last allowable day, but he officially committed Friday to play next week at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.

Woods said he waited to commit because he wanted to see how his surgically repaired left knee held up after the first two rounds of the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines Golf Course. After shooting 66 in the second round, Woods said his knee was good enough.

"It loosened up and felt fine," Woods said. "[My] goal was to play four weeks in a row. When I was forced to take Mercedes off, I put another one in and that was L.A."

After the Buick Invitational, Woods will play the Nissan Open, the Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa in Carlsbad and then head overseas for the Dubai Desert Classic, a European Tour event. He probably will return to the PGA Tour on March 20 at the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando, Fla.

Woods has played the Nissan Open in five of six years since turning professional. He entered the tournament last year but withdrew before the start because of illness. He has finished second in the tournament twice -- in 1998 when he lost a playoff to Billy Mayfair at Valencia Country Club, and in 1999. He has finished 20th, 18th and 13th in his other starts as a professional there.

The Nissan Open gave Woods his first sponsor exemption when he was 16 in 1992. He missed the cut then and again as an amateur in 1993.

"We felt that he wanted to play, but it was just about how he felt physically," tournament director Tom Pulchinski said. "Naturally, we are happy that he has decided to play, but the No. 1 player in the world is going to do what is best for his game."

Woods left the door open to possibly withdrawing early next week if his knee should falter during the final two rounds at Torrey Pines. He had arthroscopic surgery Dec. 12 to remove a cyst and drain fluid from his left knee and had not played a tournament until this week.

"It was sore [Friday] morning, no doubt about that," said Woods, two shots off the lead here. "But as I started walking, it got warm, loosened and felt great. I'm pleasantly surprised."

It's no secret that Woods' presence will boost ticket sales and elevate interest in the tournament. Pulchinski said advance ticket sales have been slower this year than in the past, but he expects a spike in sales this week.

Also making commitments before the Friday deadline were Sergio Garcia, Fred Couples, David Duval and Jesper Parnevik. Vijay Singh, David Toms, Justin Leonard, Colin Montgomerie and Charles Howell III previously committed.

The tournament will have 85 of the top 100 players from the 2002 money list and 36 of the top 50 players in the World Rankings, though Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson will not be there. The winner will receive $810,000 of the $4.5-million purse.

"It's a fantastic field," Pulchinski said. "Whoever wins this tournament will have to earn it."

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