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Tourney Marks Anniversary for Woods

IRVING, Texas (AP) — A new season starts this week for Tiger Woods.

Never mind that he already has won three times in his first eight events on the PGA Tour this year. This has nothing to do with the fact Woods is 5-0 over the past nine months in tournaments that follow at least a three-week layoff.

The Byron Nelson Classic marks an important anniversary for Woods.

He was pounding balls on the back end of the range last year when Woods hit one particular shot that brought together every component of a new swing that coach Butch Harmon had introduced over a span of 18 months.

The shot was pure. Better yet, his mind was uncluttered. What had been a step-by-step process suddenly felt natural.

He put down his club and picked up the phone.

``I told Butch that I finally felt ... I'm not going to say, 'I'm back,' but that I could hit the shots on call, when I wanted to and how I wanted,'' Woods said Tuesday morning. ``That's where you want to be. I knew I was about to start winning again.''

Woods got in a three-hour practice round with former Stanford teammate Casey Martin at Cottonwood Valley, one of two courses used for the Nelson Classic. Then he downed two small cartons of yogurt, a glass of orange juice, and reflected on one of the most dominant 12 months of golf.

``This was a big tournament last year, just to prove to myself that what I had done was the right thing,'' he said.

All Woods did was revamp a swing that had brought him six victories in his first 21 starts on the PGA Tour, including a record-shattering win at Augusta National that made him the youngest Masters champion.

Throughout the process of changing his swing, he managed to win twice and have 19 top-10 finishes by relying on a short game that never gets enough credit. And he ignored suggestions that perhaps he wasn't as good as first believed.

Woods knew better.

``When I won San Diego last year, Butch and I were on the same flight together and I told him I'm going to win seven times that year,'' Woods said. ``I knew I was not far off. I knew it was a matter of time before it all clicked. And it finally did.''

Woods tied for seventh in the Nelson Classic last year, doomed by a 5-iron into the water on No. 17 in the third round that led to a quadruple bogey. Remarkably, he never finished lower in a stroke-play tournament the rest of the year.

As for the winning?

That started a week later in Germany, and seems as though it won't let up.

In the 12 months since that epiphany on the practice range, Woods has played 22 tournaments around the world, including two on the European tour and the World Cup. He has won 12 times and earned over $9.3 million (that alone would put him 17th on the career money list).

Even more astounding is the number of times he could have won.

Woods has finished out of the top 10 only twice since last year's Nelson Classic. One was the Sprint International, the week after he won the PGA Championship and sick. The other was the Nissan Open, a week after his streak of six straight PGA Tour victories ended.

Hey, even the No. 1 player in the world can suffer a letdown.

The key for Woods is how long he can sustain this level of play. David Duval won 11 out of 34 events. Before Duval was Nick Price in the mid-'90s, Tom Watson in the early '80s, Jack Nicklaus in the '60s and early '70s.

``It's not easy,'' Woods said.

Asked what he thought was the biggest obstacle, Woods offered a friendly smile and nodded in the direction of a reporter. His relationship with the media improves every year as he gets more comfortable with those around him.

Still, expectations can take on a life of their own.

``If you don't shoot a good round, they hammer you,'' he said. ``Not everybody. But they don't understand how you can shoot 72, when 72 is a good round sometimes depending on how you're hitting the ball.''

Those scores haven't come along very often. Woods has failed to break par only 13 times in his last 80 rounds dating to the '99 Nelson Classic.

How long can he stay this high?

``Many great players have sustained it for years,'' Woods said. ``They may not have finished in the top 10 every week, but when they're not playing well, they still have a chance to win. And that's where you want to be.''

That's where Woods is now, and has been since that day on the range a year ago.
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