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Tiger's goals for '08 are larger than ever

Tiger Woods, Buick Invitational
Lenny Ignelzi/AP
In his last 12 majors, Tiger Woods has finished out of the top four only twice.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Three weeks into the PGA Tour season, Tiger Woods finally arrived with expectations larger than ever.

The difference this year is that he created them.

First came a comment toward the bottom of a story on his Web site this month when he was asked about the possibility of winning the Grand Slam in a calendar year.

"I think it's easily within reason," he said.

Then came a five-week break over the holidays that was filled with hours spent on the range.

"It's the first time he didn't go skiing," swing coach Hank Haney said on Tuesday after watching his pupil play nine holes on the North Course at Torrey Pines, followed by a one-hour session on the back end of the practice range.

"He is really working hard," Haney said. "Last year was tough on him, and then it turned around at the end. When your mind is not 100 percent there, it's harder. But now you see the work ethic that he has always had, and the determination. He is 100 percent locked in to what he wants to do."

Woods makes his 2008 debut on Thursday at the Buick Invitational, where he is the three-time defending champion. Most would be surprised if he doesn't make it four in a row.

Rust shouldn't be a problem.

Woods took a 10-week break after the U.S. Tour Championship, then won his Target World Challenge by seven shots. But it wasn't long after a few celebrations — Christmas, birthday parties for him (Dec. 30) and his wife (Jan. 1), that he was back to work.

"I felt like I made some improvements this winter," Woods said on Monday at his Tiger Woods Learning Center. "I solidified things I was working on toward the end of last year. At Target, I wasn't quite there the last two days. I went back and looked at it, figured out a few things and was working on that. I'm excited to play again.

"I'm really excited about starting out the year, and then my preparations toward Augusta (for the Masters)."

Some don't believe the golf season starts until Woods shows up, and there's two things wrong with that thinking. One, it's a disservice to Daniel Chopra, K.J. Choi and D.J. Trahan, winners of the first three PGA Tour events.

Besides, the golf season really doesn't start until the Masters.

That would be the first leg of the Grand Slam, and everyone knows how Woods feels about that.

"I think it's easily within reason."

That comment spoke more to Woods' confidence in his game than the odds of winning all four majors in a calendar year.

Take a sample of sound bites over the years on the Grand Slam, and Woods sounds like a politician constantly changing his position.

When he won the Masters in 1997 by 12 shots in his first major as a pro, and Woods was asked about winning the Grand Slam, he reasoned that Phil Mickelson had won four U.S. PGA Tour events the year before.

"If you win the right tournaments four times, then you have the slam," he said, making it sound easy at age 21.

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