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How the top players fare vs. Tiger

Lately I've been thinking about something Charles Howell III said after finishing second to Tiger Woods in the Buick Invitational in January. I don't remember the exact quote, but Howell's words were to the effect of: I have never beaten him. He insinuated that he has never beaten Woods on tour or even at Isleworth, the gated community in Orlando where they both live. Woods, being Woods, didn't discount the notion, offering only that it was good to see Charles playing so well.

What Howell meant is that he has never won a PGA Tour event with Woods in the field. Both his victories -- the 2002 Michelob Championship at Kingsmill and the 2007 Nissan Open -- came when Woods was otherwise occupied. But the comments led me to wonder just how often Howell has indeed finished ahead of Woods in a tournament -- beaten him, if you will -- and the answer is a resounding "not very often."

The pair have played in the same tournament 81 times as professionals, and Woods has a 67-11-3 record over Charlie Threesticks. In other words, Woods has finished higher than Howell 67 times, Howell has gotten the better of Woods 11 times and the pair either tied or both missed the cut in the same event three times.

It's not an impressive record, but it's about average for the tour's top stars. Even last week, when Woods was clearly in I-don't-give-a-damn mode as he completed his round Sunday, finishing a lackluster T-22, 11 shots behind winner Vijay Singh at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Howell was on his way to matching Woods' final-round 76 and finishing T-56, seven strokes further back.

But Howell is just one of nine players ranked among the top 25 in the world who have never won a PGA Tour event with Woods in the field. Among them, perhaps surprisingly, international star Padraig Harrington, young guns Luke Donald and Paul Casey and PGA Tour veterans Chris DiMarco and K.J. Choi.

Looking not just at the list of players who have won with Tiger in the field, but also at the list of players who have won events when Tiger finished in the top five -- in effect, in contention -- it's amazing how Woods has buried the so-called young guns. Not surprisingly Vijay Singh, with 13, has the most wins with Woods entered, with Phil Mickelson (nine wins) second, Ernie Els (eight) third, David Duval (six) fourth and Mike Weir and Jim Furyk (five) tied for fifth. No young gun has beaten Woods more than three times, with Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott topping that list.

Mickelson and Singh have done the best with Woods in the top five, both winning six times. No other player has won more than three such tournaments, and only Trevor Immelman at last year's Western Open, Garcia at the 2004 Nelson and Ben Curtis at the 2003 British were younger than Woods at the time of their win. Think about that. With Woods in contention, only three players younger than him have managed to win the tournament.

All of the so-called young stars are in the field at this week's WGC-CA Championship at Doral Golf Resort's Blue Monster course in Miami, and if Tiger's in contention, I don't see one who will beat him.

The fearsome foursome
Stephen Ames: I liked him a few weeks ago in Tampa, but he had to withdraw because of the flu. Last week, fully recovered, Ames was T-9 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so he comes to Doral on a bit of a hot spell, having finished T-5 at the Accenture a few weeks earlier. He's never finished higher than T-8 at Doral, but since 2000 he has 17 rounds under par on the Blue Monster course and just three over par.

Ernie Els: He hasn't done much on tour this year -- a T-3 and T-18 in two stroke-play starts, but he has done well at Doral, having won the epic battle with Woods in 2002 and finishing T-8 a year ago. Don't let his lack of success in 2007 dissuade you, in 2002 Els only played one tour event heading into Doral, a T-17 at the Match Play.

David Toms: His record with Woods in the field is among the worst among big-time players, Tiger finishing ahead of him more than 85 percent of the time. If you recall a year ago, Toms finished with a 67 at the Ford Championship, but lost to Woods when he three-putted the final green, his first three-jack of the week.

Tiger Woods: You didn't expect all this talk of Woods only to have him not be a choice here, did you? Woods' combined score at Doral the last two years is 44 under par. Plus, he has won the WGC-CA Championship five times (understand that the CA follows the records of the WGC-American Express Championship, with the records of the old Ford Championship at Doral going the way of the Ford Edsel -- that is to say, extinct). With a record like that, it's hard to pick against him.

John Antonini is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.