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Tiger feeling confident about U.S. Open chances

Returning to the scene of his 2002 U.S. Open championship, Tiger Woods is feeling rather confident going into this week's tournament.

But what else is new?

"I like my chances," Woods said, "in any major."

>> Photos: Tiger Woods

Speaking for the first time this week, Woods spoke warmly of his memories of his last tournament here at Bethpage Black, said his surgically repaired knee feels great and believes the New York crowd will help rival Phil Mickelson through a tough weekend.

"It's going to be loud," Woods said of the response he expects for Mickelson, whose wife was diagnosed last month with breast cancer.

Woods said it's easy to assume that the golf course might be an escape from something like that, but that's not always the case.

"Everywhere you go people are reminding you of it," Woods said. "You can't get away from it."

Woods, meanwhile, said his surgically repaired knee "keeps getting better and better. Now it's fun. Before it was, whatever I did, it kept getting worse and worse."

As for the atmosphere here, Woods does not expect the same energy from the fans as there was at Bethpage in 2002, noting that a big reason for the atmosphere was the fact that it was still so close to the events of September 11.

"I've never played in front of an atmosphere that loud for all 18 holes...," Woods said. "After what transpired here in September, I think everyone was just looking to celebrate something else."

After winning the Memorial two weeks ago, Woods played a private practice round last Monday. This week he played the front nine on Monday and the back nine before his press conference Tuesday.

He teed off on the 10th hole just before 7 a.m. Tuesday morning. Larchmont, N.Y. native Andrew Svoboda, a St. John's University graduate, played with Woods. Woods finished his nine holes and left the course at 9:12 a.m.

When Woods teed off on the 12th hole, he seemed distracted by fans taking photos. He grimaced at the end of his swing, and immediately his caddie/bodyguard Steve Williams turned to fans behind Woods and said "Not during the swing please." Woods then took another tee shot on the par 4 hole.

Dressed in black slacks, a black Nike sweater and his trademark white Nike hat, Woods was being trailed by two New York State troopers, just like on Monday. A Nassau County police officer was also with Woods.

The crowd following Woods was not as large early on as it was on Monday, presumably because he started on the back nine -- the furthest point from the clubhouse. But as he made his way back toward 18, word of his practice round spread quickly and by the end of the round, thousands of fans had gathered to follow Tiger's tracks.

This may be the last time spectators see Woods before Thursday's first round. He typically does a light workout on the day before a tournament begins, sometimes even working out away from the course.

Seeing the course up close again has reminded him of his victory here seven years ago.

"Everyone was so excited to have it here on this course," Woods said. "Seems like everyone who plays golf here has played this golf course...

"Overall atmosphere, I've never seen anything like it and I don't think we will again."

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