A race to the end for Woods

Friday, August 29th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NORTON, Mass. (AP) _ The motivation is still there, even if the majors aren't.

Tiger Woods begins a stretch run to the end of the season Friday in the Deutsche Bank Championship, which could determine whether his name is atop the money list at the end of the year, as it has been since 1999.

Also up for grabs is whether Woods' peers will circle his name on the ballot when it comes time to vote for PGA Tour player of the year.

``It's certainly a motivation,'' Woods said Thursday after his pro-am round on the TPC of Boston, the tour's return to the area for the first time since 1998.

``But the thing is, my goal hasn't changed,'' he said. ``Every event that I tee it up, I try and win, and that's my goal. It has been since I was a little boy. That's not going to change.''

It could go along way toward some of his other goals.

Going into the final two months of the season, Woods is more than $400,000 behind Davis Love III on the money list, and he likely is the second or third choice in player of the year behind Masters champion Mike Weir and Love.

With four victories already this year _ same as Love, who counts The Players Championship among his collection _ Woods probably needs to win at least one more time.

But if the money race is tight, don't look for him to start playing every week.

``It would be hard to add one in there, it really would,'' he said. ``We've got three $1 million first-place prizes coming up _ this week, Amex and the Tour Championship. If you play well in all three of those, that should take care of itself.''

First place is only worth $900,000 at the Deutsche Bank, but who's counting?

Along with the American Express Championship and the season-ending Tour Championship, the only other tournament Woods might play is Disney.

Why not one more?

``I've been going so hard this summer,'' he said. ``I've been practicing quite a bit, training quite a bit. Your body needs a break.''

The break will have to wait one more week.

For the Boston area, the break from the PGA Tour has lasted five years.

The Deutsche Bank Championship is the first PGA Tour event held in the area since 1998, the end of a 34-year run by the CVS Charity Classic at Pleasant Valley, about an hour west of Boston.

That tournament was doomed by a bad spot on the calendar and a lack of marquee players in the field, issues that should not be a problem any longer.

The tournament starts Friday so it can end on Labor Day, and while the field is the weakest on tour since late July, it does feature the No. 1 player in the world.

That wasn't an accident.

Woods has a relationship with German-based Deutsche Bank that dates to 1999, when he first started playing its European tour event. The tour was looking for an event to conclude on Labor Day, and it was interested in Boston.

The result was a new tournament with a $5 million purse with the charitable proceeds going to the Tiger Woods Foundation.

That doesn't mean this is Tiger's event, like Arnold Palmer has Bay Hill and Jack Nicklaus has the Memorial.

It only seems that way.

``My foundation is involved in it, hence, you can see the association,'' Woods said. ``But that's as far as it goes. I don't want to be put in a position where I have to ask guys to play because it's just not me.''

Still, the field is typical of the PGA Tour this late in the season, when the majors are over and only a few tournaments remain that players feel like they can't miss _ a World Golf Championship in Atlanta and the Tour Championship in Houston.

``In general, in the fall it's a little bit more that way _ not tough for attracting a great field, but it is a little hit-and-miss,'' Jeff Sluman said. ``Guys say, 'I really like this place or I'm going to take a little time off.'''

No one knows what to make of the TPC of Boston, an Arnold Palmer design that opened 14 months ago. The public was allowed to play as recently as one week ago, and the fairways are loaded with sand-filled divots.

The fairways are generous, the rough is problematic and the greens have ridges that put a premium on hitting into the right spots.

``I think the guys are going to shoot some pretty good numbers this week,'' Woods said.

Woods has a good history in the area.

Along with winning his singles match at the Ryder Cup, he won his second U.S. Amateur title at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island and became the first player to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateur titles in 1992 at Wollaston in suburban Boston.

The difference?

This will be the first time in Boston that he gets paid.

He'd rather just beat them, a chore that has been increasingly difficult this year.

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