Tiger hopes to rebound at Doral

Associated Press • Mar 22, 2007 at 5:51 AM

MIAMI - Not even Tiger Woods was sure how he would introduce himself on the first tee at Doral, only that the words "defending champion" would be appropriate in some capacity.

But defending champion of what?

Or is it where?

Woods has won the last two years on the Blue Monster, beating Phil Mickelson in a terrific duel in 2005, then holding off David Toms to win by one shot the following season. Both those victories came at regular PGA Tour events featuring a 144-man field.

Now this is called the CA Championship, and it's a World Golf Championship with a 73-man field.

It used to be known as the American Express Championship, and Woods has won that tournament the last two years, too. He beat John Daly in a playoff at Harding Park in 2005, then blew away his alleged competition at The Grove outside London last fall to win by eight.

"Multiple defending champion?" Woods asked as he walked out the door. "Have I ever done that? I don't know. Go look it up."

No matter how anyone looks at it, he figures to be a strong favorite when the tournament begins today. The debate is whether his advantage stems from being at Doral or being at a World Golf Championship.

The CA Championship, name change notwithstanding, is one of three tournaments he has won five times. The others are the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines and the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

Doral usually leads off the Florida Swing, and this year it's in the clean-up spot. Instead of players just starting to think about the Masters, the first major is right around the corner. There was no pro-am, so players were able to play practice whenever they wanted. And all 73 are guaranteed a paycheck this week because the WGCs have no cut.

"Even though it's a very important event and very big event, it seems like guys approach it a little more low-key," Toms said. "I don't know if it's because there's no cut or they have got that guaranteed check or whatever it might be. It has a nice atmosphere to it."

Woods had his own atmosphere Wednesday morning.

The size of his gallery was only about 300 people, and their attention was divided inside and outside the ropes. They had their choice between the No. 1 golfer in the world playing a practice round, and the No. 1 tennis player in the world watching him.

Roger Federer walked the back nine with Woods, both IMG clients who struck up a friendship last summer and had dinner Tuesday night on Woods' yacht.

"It was great to have him out here," Woods said. "I think he's a wonderful supporter of golf, and I think it's pretty neat when you have probably the most dominant athlete on the planet out there in your gallery."

Federer even got a chance to see Woods hit a tee shot into the water.

He missed the ending of Bay Hill last week, which has been somewhat of a hangover for Woods. Trying to catch the leaders, he took two double bogeys and a triple bogey on the back nine on his way to a 43 for a final round 76.

"I kept making silly mistakes - mistakes I don't normally make," he said.

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