Tiger Woods wouldn't lose his father until six years later but he still recalls what Earl told him on the eve of his earth-shattering 12-shot win at The Masters in 1997.

In the wee small hours of the morning, Woods was having trouble getting to sleep as he sat on a nine-shot lead.

Earl said: "You know what, just go to sleep. You know, it's going to be the most important round of your life, but you can handle it. Just go out there and do what you do. Just get in your own little world and go out there and just thrash 'em."

Woods recalled that moment with pride during the CA Championship at Doral's Blue Monster recently - a tournament he would win by two shots.

He still thrashed the opposition mentally that week, laying up twice on the final hole to card a clever bogey that showed just how far he has come in the last decade.

Even Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who is the only man in golf with a positive record against Woods in head-to-head combat, admitted as much as he finished nine shots behind the player who appears destined to become the greatest of all time and the favourite to win his fifth green jacket next Sunday night,

While Harrington won the Spanish Open in his rookie season in 1996 and took the World Cup in 1997, he knows he can't afford to think about beating the Great One.

Reflecting on Woods' "unbelievable" 13th WGC win at Doral, Harrington munched on a burger and explained the deal with Woods.

He said: "You can't worry about somebody else. You can turn up and beat Tiger Woods but that doesn't mean you are going to win the golf tournament.

"If I turn up and play badly and he plays worse than me, am I happy? If I turn up and he plays brilliant and he plays brilliantly brilliant that week, am I unhappy?

"You can't worry about somebody else, you can only worry about what you are doing."

Harrington has had his share of victories over Woods - more than most.

Less than six months ago he stared into the eye of the Tiger in Japan and beat him coming down the stretch in the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament.

But the Dubliner knows that all that will count for nothing when Woods goes after his fifth Masters title next week as the most dominant player the game has ever seen.

He explained: "Beating Tiger helps in that I know what to do in that situation. Positive feedback is always good.

"The way I have approached things in the past has worked and hopefully it will work again. But I have to look after my preparation and processes and let him look after his."

Woods himself gives the impression that he can hardly believe what he achieved at Augusta ten years ago and admits that he had no inkling of the magnitude of that victory.

He said: "It seems like forever ago. My buddies and I always kid, I live in dog years out here. It seems like forever. It's just hard to believe it's been ten years."

Asked what he remembered most about the week, Woods stated the obvious.

He said: "I think .... obviously winning. You know, whether you win by one or 12, whatever it is, I competed in my first major as a pro and was able to get the W."

His front nine of 40 alongside defending champion Nick Faldo looked to hav scuppered his chances of a victory that many dared to dream of but few believed would ever happen.

After shooting 40 the front nine, did a 12-shot victory ever come into his thoughts?

Tiger beamed that billion megawatt grin and insisted: "Oh, hell, no. I was just hoping to make the cut.

"I just thought I might have peaked too early because the week before I had shot 59, shot a couple 63s and a 64, and I was playing really well. I get out there and I shoot 40. And then all of a sudden it turns around on the back nine."

Woods says the key moment was a solid bogey putt on the ninth, but Faldo has other recollections of a day when he would shoot 75 to Woods 70.

Faldo said: "He had played The Masters before, but this was his first as a professional. We all thought - I thought, too - that you needed experience.

"What was impressive was the back nine. He whittled away and gets back in 30. He chipped in for birdie on No. 12, and who knows? That might have changed everything for him.

"But that's what Tiger is so good at. He deals with one shot at a time. He was good then, and he's the best at it now. He just hits the reset button, so 100 percent of him is on the next shot.''

Woods added: "Even though I hit the ball well on the back nine, if I don't chip in on 12, if I don't make the putt on nine, it doesn't happen. I don't get the confidence going forward.''

The rest his history, as they say. Woods shot 69 in the second round to open up a three shot lead over Colin Montgomerie and then blitzed the Scot in the third round with a 65, a punishment for Monty's ill-thought out prediction that the pressure was mounting on Woods and that he had never won a Major.

Woods recalled: "I totally understand his point, which is totally valid. But I kept saying to myself, 'He hasn't won one, either.' How can you make this statement when he hasn't won one. He'd won the Order of Merit. But he'd never won a major. So the ultimate experience, neither one of us had. I think it was a blank slate. It's a push. Now, who's playing better?''

Montgomerie shot 74 and when asked afterwards if Woods could blow a nine-shot lead just 12 months after Greg Norman had lost a six-shot lead against Faldo, the Scot was crystal clear.

Monty said: "Faldo's not lying second and Greg Norman is not Tiger Woods.''

Woods closing 69 left him a record 12 shots clear of Tom Kite and when asked to assess the impact his win has had on the game, the World No 1 pointed to the differences in equipment.

He said: "Can we take it back a few more months before that? Because when I beat Davis Love in a playoff in Vegas, he was using a Persimmon driver. I had won The Masters in '97, I was using a 43-and-a-half-inch steel, and that was the norm with everybody.

"And now the norm is 45 inches. Nobody really used a solid construction ball. Everybody was still in wound balls. Some guys still had fairway Persimmon woods.

"The game has changed quite a bit. I mean, look at the head sizes, the length of shafts. Everybody is using graphite now. The average driving length on TOUR has gone up quite a bit."

So has the prize money. In 1997 there were 45 PGA TOur events and a total prize fund of $80.55 million. This year the players have 47 events worth a combined $266.85 million.

Woods has amassed a fortune beyond the wildest dreams of the 21 year old who took the golfing world by storm 10 years ago.

But his abiding memory is of his father Earl, who passed away in May 2003.

Woods recalled: "Well, it's just there's so many different stories that week, you know. I guess for me personally, now that my father is no longer here, how important that hug was to me on the last hole.

"Because you know, the year before in '96, he had a heart attack at The Tour Championship, and he ended up having heart surgery again; he had complications.

"I was here in Florida and I flew straight back, and he was actually dead for a while, and then somehow - he used to tell this story that, ‘Yeah, I saw this warm light; I was kind of headed towards it. I said, hey, you know what, I grew up in Kansas. So let me go back the other way.'

"And when he went back the other way, and all of a sudden he heard the beeping and everything; he came back. He just always used to say, ‘No, I'm not ready for that place yet.'

"So he went down to Augusta the week of Masters against doctor's orders. He wasn't supposed to travel. As you all know, my dad's real stubborn. I had been playing pretty well up until that point. I shot 59 at home; I shot 63; I think two 65s or something. I was having a really good preparation.

"I get there and I can't putt a lick. I had the worst speeds, the worst lines, I'm hitting it well, but I just cannot shake it in from anywhere. Wednesday night I go up to Dad and say, ‘Pop, can you take a look at my stroke? It feels terrible.'

"He tells me just a couple of things and tells me, ‘Just go out there and do it.'

"I didn't really putt particularly well on the front nine. I didn't hit anything well on the front nine. But I hit a good putt on 9 for bogey (pumping fist). I hit a wonderful iron off the tee on 10. So let me just utilize those two markers and take them forward on the back nine and get back to even par for the day.

"All of a sudden it happened. I made a bomb on 10, chipped in on 12 and, you know, went through the back nine.

"When I got up to Saturday night with Dad, he and I were just sitting there, past midnight, both of us don't sleep very well, and we were just rapping, talking.

"He said, ‘You know what, just go to sleep. You know, it's going to be the most important round of your life, but you can handle it. Just go out there and do what you do. Just get in your own little world and go out there and just thrash 'em.'

"So that was mind-set. When I hugged him on 18, looking back on it now, I could not have won that tournament without him."

Woods putting is not quite as perfect as he might like these days. Perhaps it is just as well for Harrington and the rest of the field that Earl is not around to give his son a helping hand.


(The contenders)
Phil Mickelson

The left-hander blew a golden opportunity to win a third major in a row at Winged Foot last year. But with two green jackets in his closet, including two of the last three editions, he'd love another.

He said: "Well, it's cool being among the two-win club, don't get me wrong. It would be great to add a third. I mean, everybody wants to win that tournament. And some of my best memories is the game is winning those two events.

"Obviously being able to win my first major there and to birdie the last hole and then to have a nice stroll up 18 knowing I had the tournament in hand. Those are the walks and the memories that you cherish, and to be able to add to that and create another memory would be terrific and something I'm working hard to do."

Henrik Stenson
Victories at the Dubai Desert Classic and Accenture Match Play have boosted the Swede with the wraparound shades to world No 5.

A Terminator on the golf course, Stenson has the length to conquer Augusta and is a vastly improved player from last year, when he missed the cut on his debut.

Factor in Fanny Sunesson on his bag, Nick Faldo's former caddie, and you have most of the ingredients necessary to pull off a ‘shock'.

Stenson said: "I don't know, only being my second Masters, if I will know the place enough. But hopefully a few things moving in the right direction: Me playing well last year, and having Fanny on the bag, and hopefully playing a lot better than I did last year at The Masters as well.

"Hopefully those three things can push it in the right direction. I missed the cut and didn't play very well last year. So if I can have a bit of form coming in there, I think I can have a good tournament."

Paul Casey
Tied for sixth on his Masters debut in 2004, Casey won the European Tour's Player of the Year Award last season despite being pipped by Padraig Harrington for the Order of Merit.

Casey said: "I'm really excited because I haven't been there for a couple of years. I love the golf course.

"Everything that surrounds it is cool and that's the bit I love. So I'm looking forward to getting back there and just enjoying the week and hopefully playing some good golf.

"Off all the Majors, I think The Masters suits my game the best. You need to work the golf ball both ways, but a high, soft flight is what you need with the irons, and I've got that. You need a good short game.

"I really think that suits my game the best. That gives me the best opportunity to win a major and hopefully, you know, I can get close to that this year.

Aaron Baddeley
Australia's inability to win a US Masters title has been described as an embarrassment in the latest edition of American magazine Golfweek.

Australians have won nine Opens, two US Opens and three US PGAs, but no Masters.

But many believe that Baddeley can break that hoodoo this week after winning twice in the US in the last two years.