Tiger leaves 'em guessing

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The rumour spread like wildfire around the TPC at Sawgrass yesterday.

It suggested that Tiger Woods' father, Earl, was ill and Tiger had pulled out of The Players Championship to be at his dad's side in California.

Even a clarification penned by Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, later in the day didn't entirely resolve the mystery.

"Tiger Woods was off site for personal reasons, but intends to be back at TPC Sawgrass in time for his first-round tee-time Thursday at 12:33 p.m.," the release said.

A reliable source confirmed that Woods had gone to California Tuesday evening and was en route back to Florida late yesterday. And a tour official told Associated Press that Woods missed the final practice round because he wanted to check on his dad.

But it seems clear that the world's No. 1 player will be headlining the 144-man field for the start of the $8-million US tournament today, the last March go-round for this tournament before it moves to May in 2007.

With 48 of the top 50 players and 86 of the top 100, this tournament rivals the PGA Championship for the top field of the season, though at the end of the weekend a rank outsider might be holding the first-prize cheque for $1.44 million.

Of the top 10 players in the world rankings, only Woods (2001) has won this event and that's a theme that stretches back over the life of the tournament.

HAS A CHANCE

"One of the great things about this golf course is that if you drive the ball into the right parts of the fairway, hit good irons and make some putts, anybody in the field has a chance," Canadian Mike Weir said. "So many of the courses we play now are set up so the long hitters can bomb it out there where they can hit wedges to the green. TPC Sawgrass isn't like that. It forces you to manufacture a lot of golf shots."

That opinion is widely held among the players. It would seem to be an obvious formula for those in charge of course setups all over the PGA Tour, but apparently the message isn't getting through.

"It's a shotmaker's golf course and it's not a one-dimensional golf course," said Fred Funk, who handled strong winds in a Monday finish last year on his way to victory.

Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Phil Mickelson who, along with Woods, constitute the so-called Fab Five, have had their troubles around Sawgrass.

"They tend to take away the advantage of the long hitter here," Singh said. "It's a test of golf where everybody comes into play."

Prior to yesterday, the field included 49 of the top 50 in the world until Chris DiMarco pulled out with a rib injury.

The other Canadian in the field is Stephen Ames.


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