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From red carpet to testy challenge for Woods at Players

Tiger Woods of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round before The Players Championship PGA golf tournament at
Tiger Woods of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round before The Players Championship PGA golf tournament at

By Larry Fine

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Tiger Woods may get the red carpet treatment wherever he goes but that will be of little help to the world number one at TPC Sawgrass, site of this week's Players Championship.

Woods won his only Players title in 15 starts in 2001 and in addition to a field that includes the world's top 30 golfers, and 38 of the top 40, there is the diabolical Pete Dye layout that has frustrated contenders for four decades.

The 14-times major winner measures success by only the biggest championships, but he grudgingly admits that next in line after the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship would be the Players Championship.

"I think we have our four major championships, and that's that," Woods said when asked if the Players could be considered the fifth major. "But if there was going to be another one, this would be it. This is the best field that we have."

Woods could be primed to become only the fifth golfer to win the tournament more than once since he is currently the hottest player in the world with three wins this season that helped him regain the world number one ranking from Rory McIlroy.

He was also in the lead at Augusta National before his third shot at the par-five 15th in the second round of last month's Masters hit the flagstick and ricocheted into the water.

The next morning he was hit with a controversial two-shot penalty - some called for his disqualification - for taking an improper drop following a review that was prompted by a phone call from a TV viewer.

Woods, who carded a triple-bogey on the hole, eventually finished tied for fourth, four shots out of a playoff won by Australian Adam Scott.

He said the Masters disappointment stayed with him for about a week.

"When I was away from it, I was reflecting on ... the things that I did right but also the things that I did wrong that week," Woods, who got the red carpet treatment at a New York fashion awards show this week with girlfriend and Olympic champion skier Lindsey Vonn, said on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately I hit a good shot and got a bad break. But I still had an opportunity over the next 36 holes to get it back, and I sort of had my opportunities to do it and I just didn't do it."

Winning at TPC Sawgrass is also no easy matter.

"It's one of those courses where they've got some tough lines, and if you're not playing well, you're going to get exposed," said Woods, who has just one top-10 finish here since his 2001 triumph. "You miss these greens at all, you've got some of the weirdest, funky little shots that you'll ever face."

Defending champion Matt Kuchar will tee it up with Woods and reigning end-of-season FedExCup winner Brandt Snedeker in Thursday's opening round as he embarks on a campaign to become the first repeat winner of the Players Championship.

"I think this is a great opportunity," said Kuchar, who won this year's WGC-Accenture Match Play, tied for eighth at the Masters and has had two other top 10s in 2013.

"They tell me nobody's defended the title. I don't think that this is necessarily a curse that nobody's defended the title here. It's just kind of one of those stats you pull out, and I'd like to be the first guy that is able to repeat."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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