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Omens so favourable for Firestone specialist Woods

Written by: Staff
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AKRON, Ohio, Aug 24 (Reuters) The omens could hardly be more favourable for four-times winner Tiger Woods at this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

The American world number one, who believes he is playing the best golf of his career, launches his title defence in Thursday's opening round on one of his favourite layouts.

''I've always enjoyed coming here, I think it's one of the neat courses we play all year,'' Woods told a news conference at Firestone Country Club yesterday.

''The greens aren't really that difficult, but it's more of a ball-striking golf course.'' Asked if he had to pick one course where he had to win and Augusta National, venue for his four Masters victories was unavailable, Woods replied: ''It would probably be here.'' The 30-year-old, who is hunting a fourth successive PGA Tour title this week, boasts a remarkable track record on Firestone's par-70 South Course.

He has triumphed four times here in the last seven years, never finishing worse than fourth.

''This is his benefit tournament,'' U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia said. ''He seems to win here every year he comes.'' American Ben Curtis, surprise winner of the 2003 British Open at Royal St George's, hopes Woods might be suffering from a PGA Championship hangover.

''I think he's human,'' he said. ''Hopefully he's a little tired this week and I feel a little energised and we can have some fun.

FEELING COMFORTABLE ''But he clearly feels very comfortable here; he wins every year basically.'' Britain's Luke Donald, who played with Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship at Medinah on Sunday, agreed.

''He's obviously going through a very good patch right now,'' Donald said.

''He's hard to beat. You don't really feel like he's going to give it to you, you've got to go out there and shoot a good round, and that makes it tough.'' Woods, who believes he is on a run similar to the one that swept him to the 2000-01 ''Tiger Slam'' of all four major titles, spoke about his mental strength over his rivals.

''The mind controls the body, so if the mind tells the body what to do, it'll do it,'' he said. ''It's just a matter of getting the mind under control to make your body respond.

''Under the most extreme circumstances when the competition is that fierce and that heightened and my concentration is that high, I feel like I can make things happen.

''Over the course of my golf career, I've had it happen enough times where I can always say to myself: 'I can do this, I've done it before.' That in itself gives you a lot of confidence.'' Woods, who clinched his 12th major victory by five strokes at Medinah, hunts his 11th individual WGC (World Golf Championships) title this week.

He is scheduled to tee off at 1320 local (1720 GMT) in Thursday's first round along with compatriot Jason Gore and Ireland's Paul McGinley.

REUTERS VJ BST0521

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