Tiger makes his Tampa Bay debut

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Associated Press Tiger Woods watches his tee shot during the pro-am at the Valspar Championship Wednesday.

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) - Tiger Woods has won five PGA Tour events that he played for the first time.

Two of them no longer exist (Disney and BellSouth Classic in Atlanta). One of them he stopped playing 12 years ago (Tournament of Champions). He has been ineligible for another (World Golf Championship now in Mexico) the last four years. The other is Las Vegas.

The next opportunitystarts Thursday at the Valspar Championship.

That's not to say Woods has never competed on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook. He played in 1996, but he had some help. It was the old JC Penney Mixed Team Classic. His partner was Kelli Kuehne, another amateur stalwart dressed up in the Nike swoosh whose career never got going.

What is Woods doing in the Tampa Bay area?

He wants to get his game ready for the Masters, and without being eligible for the two World Golf Championships in the spring, he needs places to play.

Woods has captivated golf audiences more than ever during his return from a fourth back surgery. He tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines (seven shots out of the lead) and finished 12th in the Honda Classic (eight shots behind the winner. In between, he missed the cut at Riviera.

"I only got two rounds in LA. I missed the cut there," Woods said. "I felt really strong afterward. After playing Honda and really feeling good about it, I wanted to push myself in my practice sessions, which I did, pushed myself in the gym a little bit. And I can handle two weeks in a row."

He also is playing Bay Hill next week, meaning four tournaments in five weeks, and then the Masters.

Innisbrook is not the typical Florida golf course. It has elevation, such as the par-5 fifth hole where the shot is blind if players go for the green in two. Water comes into play on only seven holes, none of the last two.

"It's a great test," Woods said. "With this wind blowing, it's going to put a premium on really hitting it flush."

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