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TEE SHOTS A MAJOR WOE FOR WOODS

Fast food for thought ingested while mulling over the Masters . . .

Tiger Woods has no chance in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 or in the PGA at Baltusrol unless he tames his tee game.

This fourth win at Augusta was, looking at the long term, fool's gold considering he ranked next to last in the field in driving accuracy.

Granted, most of Woods' approach shots were lasers. And his putting was extraordinary, particularly when it came to saving pars. He's always been, when on, Jack Nicklaus-like in that regard.

But Woods won't get as many meaningful opportunities to let other facets of his game come to the rescue unless he starts finding fairways off the tee. The Tiger of old would have won Sunday in a cakewalk instead of giving shots back by dialing up New Jersey off the tee. There exists a vulnerability absent during his Grand Slam run of '01-02.

First-year pro and 2003 Porter Cup champion Casey Wittenberg could be golf's next David Duval, an immense talent broiled to a crisp by his all-consuming intensity. Tour players are miffed by Wittenberg's arrogance, and Masters officials must be as well after what the quote Boy Wonder gave the Augusta Chronicle during Friday's rain delay. "When are we going to tee off?" Wittenberg said. "Last night I had to finish in the freakin' dark."

Classy.

Vijay Singh led the cut field in greens in regulation through three rounds but was done in by his putting, which ranked last. Singh can grouse all he wants about Phil Mickelson's spike marks marring his line and infringing on his concentration. Fact is, Singh's never been able to solve Augusta's greens. Even when he won here in 2000 he averaged 1.72 putts per hole, by far the highest average for a champion since at least 1989.

But Mickelson insinuating that the bad blood between him and Singh is nothing more than a media contrivance amounts to an attempt at damage control on damage self-inflicted. It was Lefty's camp that felt compelled to put out an expansive media release answering Singh's charges.

Masters officials are contemplating introducing a standardized golf ball that diminishes length. All that would do is protect the integrity of the record book. Take 10 percent off Woods' drive and he's hitting it 279 instead of 310. Take 10 percent off Chris DiMarco's drive and he's hitting it 252 instead of 280. The advantage is still distinctly Tiger's. Produce a ball where everyone hits 280 and what we have is NASCAR-like restrictor plates. No thanks.

Nicklaus has the right idea in suggesting a Tuesday or Wednesday one-round event would be an adequate way to honor aged past champions instead of inviting them into the field. The Masters should take a cue from the British Open and invite past champions back only through their 65th birthday. All I know is there has to be a better alternative to Billy Casper shooting 106 in the tournament proper. I mean, otherwise why not just invite Jerry Sullivan?

I forget. Is Ernie Els the Big Easy, or just Over Easy? Once Tiger charged, Els' response was, "See you at the Open."

Masters officials like to cite the dearth of commercial time as proof they are not enslaved to TV. But sending the leaders off at 3 p.m. on Sunday contradicts their argument.

If the playoff had gone another hole, Woods and DiMarco would have been toiling in unfavorable conditions. If it had gone two more holes they would have been back on Monday morning. Is that any way to conduct what for many is the most cherished major of them all? Then why, if not for TV?

How could anyone see Woods' chip-in on 16 and not think Tom Watson, Pebble Beach, 1982? Unless you weren't born then.
e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com