- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

TULSA, Okla. The best way to play against Tiger Woods, in case you were wondering, is blindfolded. Well, maybe not blindfolded, Thomas Bjorn says, but it's a good idea to avert your eyes and not spend the entire round marveling at Woods' golfing gifts.
Bjorn, Denmark's one and only Ryder Cupper, has drawn the short straw this week, so to speak. He'll be paired with Tiger today and tomorrow in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Southern Hills. For many, this would be a daunting task. As Tom Lehman said yesterday, "It's always nice to play with the guys who are the best players, but dealing with the circus atmosphere of [Woods' galleries] is difficult. Steve Jones and I played with him in the first two rounds at Congressional [in '97], and there must have been 120 media guys on the course with us and two full-time people in charge of [controlling them]. You don't deal with that playing with Davis Love or Lee Westwood, who I'm paired with in the first two rounds this year."
No, playing with Tiger Woods isn't quite like playing with Davis Love or Lee Westwood. It's more like playing with Elvis or the president of the United States. "It takes some getting used to," Bjorn says. Fortunately for him, he has had lots of practice and not all of it bad either. Oh, his third round with Woods in last year's Open was pretty dreadful; he shot a 82 to Tiger's 71. But three months ago in the Dubai Desert Classic, Bjorn kept company with Woods for four days and not only did he live to tell about it, he nosed out Tiger on the 72nd hole. No Danish pastry he.
He accomplished this, as previously stated, by basically not looking at his opponent the same approach Indiana Jones took (as spirits swooshed about) at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Truth be known, Bjorn probably got a little intimidated watching Tiger during the '00 Open, watching him "hit every shot like his life depended on it." It's easy to get caught up in that, to feel like the Incredible Shrinking Golfer, when you're paired with Woods.
Bjorn recalls playing the par-5 18th hole at Dubai earlier this year and having Tiger outdrive him by 50 yards. Then he hit a 3-wood into the green while Woods was going in with a 5-iron. "That's why I don't watch him [play] much," he says. "You do that, and you start realizing how impressive he is." Better to focus on your own game, he adds, because "Tiger just doesn't give you any breaks out there. Other players do, but not him."
Actually, Tiger did give him one break at Dubai. They were tied at 22-under on the final hole when Woods, who had put his drive in the rough, decided to go for the green in two. To the astonishment of all, his ball landed short and in the water, and Bjorn needed only a par to secure his sixth European Tour victory and cap "the best performance of my life by far."
"I'm quite proud of what I did this week," he said afterward. "To go out there and play with the guy for four days and then beat him is everybody's dream."
He'll carry that feeling around with him the next two days at Southern Hills and chances are he'll need it. After all, when Tiger went to Dubai in March, he was in the midst of his celebrated winless streak. He was probably as beatable as he has been since he was rebuilding his swing in '98. This week, though, Woods is riding a wave. He has five victories and a tie for third in his last six outings. It's Bjorn, as it turns out, who's trying to find his game. After facing down Tiger, he came to the U.S. and missed the cut at both the Players Championship and the Masters (before managing a 12th-place tie at Hilton Head). His play in Europe lately hasn't been much better (just one top-25 finish in four tournaments).
And now he's going up against Woods again. The same Woods who, since Dubai, hasn't shot worse than 14-under in an event. The same Woods who, at the age of 25, already has one more Tour title (28) than Lee Trevino. The same Woods who's going for an unprecedented fifth straight major championship. The same Woods who's "by far better," in Bjorn's estimation, "than anybody else."
Somebody hand the poor man a blindfold or at least a pair of blinders. He needs to keep his mind on his own golf and not worry about some superhuman shot that Tiger just hit. Besides, the noise of the crowd should give him a pretty good indication of how Woods is doing. Maybe he should wear some earplugs, too.

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