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Pressure mounts on Vonn as Tiger avoids spotlight

VAL D'ISERE, France--Lindsey Vonn will take to the piste for Saturday's World Cup downhill in Val d'Isere under increased pressure as high-profile boyfriend Tiger Woods pitched up in the glitzy French resort.

While Vonn has been a regular spectator of the world's number one golfer, it will be the first time Woods has been seen at one of his girlfriend's ski races since they confirmed in March they were a couple.

Her return from injury to racing at Lake Louise, Canada, coincided with the World Challenge golf tournament in Thousand Oaks, California, that Woods hosts for the benefit of his charitable foundation.

The 14-time Major champion and Vonn were spotted in a cafe on the main drag of Val d'Isere, after Woods' car was barred from driving up to the doors of his swanky hotel as the street was pedestrianized for the bib draw for the downhill.

“It's been tough with my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, but I'm feeling good,” Vonn told the crowd after she drew number 19.

Vonn was referring to a savage crash at last February's World Ski Championships in Schaldming which left her needing reconstructive knee surgery and 10 months of rehabilitation.

After Woods, wearing a dark puffa jacket buttoned to his chin and hood up, hands dug deep into the pockets, realized he had been spotted by photographers, he quickly sought sanctuary in the hotel used for the World Cup event.

Woods had hinted in a posting on Thursday on his tigerwoods.com website that he was going to pass on golf for a while to spend more time with Olympic downhill champion Vonn and his children.

“I'm going to put my clubs away for a while to spend more time with my kids and support my girlfriend Lindsey Vonn as she tries to prepare for the Sochi Olympics,” Woods said.

“Having experienced reconstructive surgery on my knee and the ensuing rehab, and the amount of pain associated with it, it's really hard to explain to anybody unless you've been through it.

“And then coming back on it athletically, to trust that it's going to be there, that's a whole different ballgame.

“I've had my share of experiences in that regard—unfortunately—but I think it helps her in a sense because she can bounce ideas off me about what to expect. It is a frustrating process and really difficult to go through.”

Woods also admitted to having found a synchronicity with the American skier.

“We see our sports through the same looking glass in how we approach them,” he acknowledged.

“We both work very hard and are prepared for our seasons. And when we're ready to go, we give it everything we possibly have and there's no holding back. I think that's some of our commonalities.

“But she has to be way more aggressive in her sport than I have to be in mine. You're trying to make your way down a mountain at 80-plus mph, and you have to have the adrenaline and the aggressiveness to do it.

“But for me, I'm trying to tone everything down mentally. I'm trying to play within myself and do all the little things. So that part of it is way different.”

Woods added: “I think it's the preparation that we both appreciate and the fact that we can do it time and time again, and we've done it for a long period of time.

“It's not a flash in the pan, and you just don't do it for one year—she's done it for 13 years, and I've done it for 18 years. As far as Lindsey competing in Sochi, we're very hopeful. It all depends on how that knee is.”

Vonn has credited Woods with making her a “better athlete” for showing her unprecedented levels of professionalism, dedication to fitness and a mental toughness to resist pressure.

“This experience with Tiger will really help me at big events,” she told the January edition of the Red Bulletin.

“At the Olympics or World Cup, it's not just about the one-and-a-half minutes of racing: you're there for two weeks and permanently in racing mode, everything's significant, everyone's looking at you.”

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U.S. golfer Tiger Woods, right, and U.S. Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, center, walk in Val d'Isere in the French Alps on Friday, Dec. 20. (AFP)

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