Tiger on the prowl for a double-defense

MIAMI – Not even Tiger Woods was sure how he would introduce himself on the first tee at Doral, only that the words “defending champion” would be appropriate in some capacity.

But defending champion of what?

Or is it where?

Woods has won the last two years on the Blue Monster, beating Phil Mickelson in a terrific duel in 2005, then holding off David Toms to win by one shot the following season. Both those victories came at regular PGA Tour events featuring a 144-man field.

Now this is called the CA Championship, and it’s a World Golf Championship with a 73-man field.

It used to be known as the American Express Championship, and Woods has won that tournament the last two years, too. He beat John Daly in a playoff at Harding Park in 2005, then blew away his alleged competition at The Grove outside London last fall to win by eight.

“Multiple defending champion?” Woods asked as he walked out the door. “Have I ever done that? I don’t know. Go look it up.”

No matter how anyone looks at it, he figures to be a strong favorite when the tournament begins Thursday. The debate is whether his advantage stems from being at Doral or being at a World Golf Championship.

Woods practically owns the WGC events, especially this format that invites the top 50 in the world ranking and leading money winners from the six major tours around the world.

The CA Championship, name change notwithstanding, is one of three tournaments he has won five times. The others are the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines and the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

What makes this one more unique is he has won on five courses in four countries – Valderrama in Spain (1999), Mount Juliet in Ireland (2002), Capital City Club in Atlanta (2003), Harding Park and The Grove.

Why so much success?

“I don’t know. He just plays well at them, I guess,” Sergio Garcia said. “You ask him and let me know.”

It helps to have fewer players to beat. Only 73 players have qualified this week, and some of them – Pram Meesawat of Thailand and Anton Haig of South Africa – are making their U.S. debut in professional golf.

But if that were the case, it would be easier on everybody.

“Usually, that’s how many are here once they make a cut,” Toms said.

No doubt, the tournament is different this year. Doral usually leads off the Florida Swing, and this year it’s in the clean-up spot. Instead of players just starting to think about the Masters, the first major is right around the corner.