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Woods remains positive despite majors drought

The brash talk was borne of confidence and youth. Tiger Woods knew how good he was. He also didn't know any better.

Back in the old days, when Woods emerged as a rookie on the PGA Tour, he talked of teeing it up to win every week, expecting that he could do so.

When he won the 1997 Masters by 12 shots, he said winning all four major championships in the same year was possible, something he'd relish pursuing.

More than two years later, Woods, 23, is still in search of his second major championship. And it's not for a lack of trying.

A final-round score of 70 at last month's British Open would have put him in a playoff, but he tied for seventh, four shots back. He tied for third at the U.S. Open, missing two crucial putts down the stretch. He tied for 10th at last year's PGA Championship.

But the thought of catching Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors is now more daunting.

"All I can do is keep giving myself chances," said Woods, who begins play in the PGA Championship today at Medinah Country Club. "It's part of the game. Eventually, either someone else is going to make a mistake and I'm going to sneak into a victory or I'm going to outplay someone.

"I look at Jack's career. And Jack finished second in 19 majors. How did he feel about it, losing that many times? But he also won 18. He kept giving himself chances."

Woods, 23, used to say that he compared himself to Nicklaus, that he wanted to match his records. But already, that talk is tapering. Nicklaus had three major titles by age 24, a number Tiger can't touch. Nicklaus had 12 PGA Tour titles at age 24, while Woods has 10 and counting.

"Our fields are a lot deeper now," Woods said. "For instance, look at Paul Lawrie winning the British Open. What was he ranked (159) in the world? (Nicklaus) didn't have too many players winning majors that came out of nowhere. The fields weren't as deep. They had great players, but they didn't have the quality of field."

With that said, Woods has played some great golf this summer. He's finished no worse than tied for seventh since May, winning twice on the PGA Tour and once in Europe.

"Right now, I'm playing pretty good," he said. "I'm very positive and feel like my game is rounding into shape."

NO LONGER NO. 1: Despite his recent success, Woods dropped behind David Duval in the most recent World Ranking, a development that caught Duval by surprise.

Duval had moved into the No. 1 position this spring after winning four times before the Masters. But with Woods' success this summer, he regained the No. 1 spot. Now Duval has it again.

"What the heck's the difference," Duval said. "Sunday I was ranked No. 2. Monday I was ranked No. 1. What did I do? I fished. I was in Idaho fishing Sunday, for Christ's sakes. Heck, I was trying to catch a trout when I went to No. 1."

CAREER CHANGE?: Tampa's Woody Austin is struggling. The 1995 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is fighting to regain his form from that year, when he finished 24th on the money list. He played the Nike Tour last year to earn his PGA Tour card again, but is ranked just 139th on the money list this year, even with a tie for 15th Sunday at the Buick Open.

"If I don't figure out a way to keep my card, I just don't want to put myself through this anymore," Austin said.

MICKELSON STREAK: Phil Mickelson's top priority is winning the PGA Championship. But his goals won't end after Medinah.

Mickelson has won at least one PGA Tour event every year since 1993, the longest streak on tour.

"There's a lot of credibility to a guy who can win every year on tour," Mickelson said.

The longest Mickelson has gone without winning during the streak was two years ago at Bay Hill, the third week in March.

He will play the International next week, a tournament he has won twice and was runner-up last year. After that is the NEC Invitational at Firestone, where Mickelson has won and usually contends.

"This is really one of my favorite stretches," Mickelson said.

AROUND GOLF: Safety Harbor's John Huston will team with the LPGA Tour's Annika Sorenstam in the final JCPenney Classic in December at the Westin Innisbrook Resort. The new tournament at Innisbrook for 2000 officially has been announced by the PGA Tour as the Tampa Bay Classic. It will be played Oct. 19-22, 2000, a full-field PGA Tour event. Palm Harbor's Bob Heintz has slipped to 17th on the Nike Tour money list, despite finishing tied for 11th at last week's Nike Omaha Classic. The top 15 players earn their PGA Tour card for next season, but Heintz is less than $1,500 from the last spot.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.