A rested Tiger often results in victory

IRVING, Texas - Beware a rested Tiger. Tiger Woods returns to the PGA Tour after a post-Masters break that featured a fishing trip to Utah with Mark O'Meara, a day off from a commercial shoot because of the Screen Actors Guild strike, and not much else.

''The first three weeks, I touched a club one time because I had to for a catalog shoot,'' Woods said Wednesday. ''Other than that, I didn't touch a club.''

Before anyone wonders about the rust, consider the record.

Starting with the PGA Championship in August, Woods has returned from every break of at least two weeks by winning his first tournament.

He will try to make it six in a row in the Byron Nelson Classic, which starts Thursday on the remodeled TPC at Las Colinas and the always easy Cottonwood Valley Golf Course.

''I think you just get rejuvenated,'' Woods said Wednesday. ''You come back with a clear mind. When you're out here playing every week, it's hard to come out after each and every round and go out there and hit balls for four or five hours. You just can't do it, unless you're Vijay. For normal people, we'd wear ourselves out.''

That would be Vijay Singh, the Masters champion who is among nine tour winners in a strong field at the Nelson Classic, where the $4 million purse matches Pebble Beach as the largest for a regular PGA Tour event.

Also in the field are Phil Mickelson and Hal Sutton, who both have two wins, including a victorious showdown over Woods. And then there's David Duval, also coming off a four-week break after the Masters and still searching for his first win in over a year.

''I would love to win, and I have every intention of doing that,'' Duval said. ''I don't think it's something you forget how to do.''

What Duval would like to forget is the Masters, where he trailed Singh by only a stroke before dumping a 5-iron into Rae's Creek on the 13th hole that effectively left unfilled seven months' of preparation.

The U.S. Open is five weeks away, but Duval is living in the present.

''This is some great preparation time, but we're playing some events you hope to win,'' he said. ''I need to work on paying better attention to those than I did at the beginning of the year. I'm very much excited to be out here again.''

The tournament pumped $3 million into renovations of the TPC at Las Colinas, which has agreed to hold the Nelson Classic through 2018. The most significant change was a new tee box on No. 10, making players carry a canal to the fairway.

They also put in the Peggy Nelson tree, named for the host's wife. The Live Oak is 32 feet high and 25 feet wide, located about 130 yards from the green down the right side, which should make players think twice about trying to drive the 385-yard hole.

Loren Roberts won last year in a playoff over Steve Pate, and he will try this week to join some pretty exclusive company. Only Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson have successfully defended in the Nelson Classic, which dates to 1944.

Still, most of the attention is focused around Woods.

Earlier this year, he put together a streak that made Nelson wonder whether his record of 11 in a row was in jeopardy. Woods was stopped at six straight tour wins, but it was only a microcosm of a sensational 12 months in which he won 12 times and had 20 top-10 finishes in 22 tournaments around the world.

The remarkable stretch followed an 18-month period when Woods retooled his swing and won only twice, causing some to question whether he was in a slump.

''A lot of you guys were bashing me in the press for not playing well, and I said, 'I'm working on things, things are getting better.' No one really believed me,'' he said. ''And I hope you guys believe me now.''

Despite the need for rest, Woods said there is a little rust in his game. After four straight tournaments on the bumpy greens of California, two events in the Bermuda grass of Florida and the unmatchable conditions of Augusta, Woods ventures into new turf - rye grass.

''I haven't been practicing in this kind of grass in a while,'' he said. ''Balls come out a little different. You have to get used to it.''

If history is any indication, he'll figure it out.


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