By Mark Lamport-Stokes
MARANA, Arizona (Reuters) - Tiger Woods has often been fired up by adverse comments in the past but appeared to shrug off claims by Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano that he was beatable at this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Woods, whose world ranking has slipped from number one to 20th, will face the 48th-ranked Spaniard in Wednesday's opening round at Dove Mountain.
"I feel exactly the same way as he does," three-times Match Play champion Woods told reporters on Tuesday before setting off to practice. "I feel he's beatable, too."
Asked whether he was especially motivated by what other players said about him, he replied: "It used to quite a bit when I was younger but as I've matured I've gone beyond that.
"It's their prerogative, it's their opinion. What matters is how I go out and play and how I'm progressing in my game. At the end of the day when I'm retired, I think I will have mastered a pretty good record."
Fernandez-Castano, a five-times winner on the European Tour who has never played in the company of Woods, described the 14-times major champion as vulnerable on Monday.
"He's probably not at his best, and you have to look at it that way," the Spaniard said of the American who is working his way back to form after two years of struggle due to injuries and marital trouble.
"Maybe it's a good chance to play good, and maybe I can beat him. He's won this tournament three times and he has a very good match play record ... but not so good on the Ryder Cup. I think he's beatable."
Six years ago at the Match Play Championship, Woods was famously stung into action by comments made by Stephen Ames about the accuracy of his driving, going on to crush the Canadian 9&8 in the opening round.
Asked at the time whether he felt the comments were disrespectful, Woods replied: "It's fair comment. I just don't do it."
After further questioning, Woods described his reaction quite simply as: "9&8".
This week Woods will be much more concerned about trying to end a victory drought of more than two years on the PGA Tour.
He has been working on the fourth swing change of his professional career and all the latest signs suggest he is close to his best, especially if he can regain putting consistency.
In his last four stroke-play events, he finished third at the Australian Open, won the limited-field Chevron World Challenge, tied for third at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and finished joint 15th at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am two weeks ago.
"Basically I only putted really poorly in probably two of my rounds this year, so it's not too bad," said Woods, who has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since the 2009 BMW Championship.
"I putted great on the last day in Abu Dhabi, but unfortunately it was for pars. The past Sunday was awful. I putted as well as I putted on Saturday, I putted that bad on Sunday."
Woods, Match Play champion in 2003, 2004 and 2008, has always enjoyed the challenge of the one-on-one format but he knows that good golf is no guarantee of victory.
"It is a sprint, it is a boat race," the 36-year-old said. "You have to get off to quick starts. Generally if you get down early, two or three down, you rarely come back.
"It's hard to make up ground when you're only playing 18 holes. You don't know who you're going to get or how they're playing. In either case you have to go out and make birdies."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)