Tiger favored heading into 77th Masters
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Apr 10, 2013 | 2032 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods is feeling about as comfortable with every aspect of his game as he has since he last won a major championship, and that seemed a long time ago.

That’s a good thing for the patrons on the Augusta National grounds and all the people around the world watching the Masters on TV, but not so much for the other 90-plus players in the field.

Woods, who returned to the No. 1 player in the world after his last win three weeks ago, is the prohibitive favorite in this week’s 77th Masters.

What else is new? He has been considered a favorite each of the last seven years he hasn’t won here, but this year there’s a growing sense he can actually pull it off and move one major closer to Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record.

Only until then will some people accept the most dominant player of his generation is all the way back from the downward spiral that touched every aspect of his life and dropped him as far as 58th in the world golf rankings.

“Every year he’s put up as that,” defending Masters champion Bubba Watson said. “He’s playing the best. He’s No. 1 in the world. If you’re No 1 in the world, I think you should be the favorite. It would be kind of weird if he’s the underdog and he’s No. 1 in the world. He’s No. 1 in the world, that’s all you need to look at.”

But Woods hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. And he hasn’t won here since 2005, when he beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff. He has finished sixth or better each year since until a T-40 last year — his worst finish here as a pro.

“It’s not like I’ve been out of there with no chance of winning this championship,” he said. “I’ve been there and unfortunately just haven’t got it done.”

Admittedly, the element holding him back is his putting.

“I was there ball-striking-wise a few years through that stretch … but just didn’t make enough putts,” he said. “You have to putt well here. You have to make a lot of putts.”

Now even that’s coming around.

Woods hasn’t played in two weeks, but the last two times he has played he’s won, and that’s what has most of the experts picking him this week, although there no doubt will be considerable challengers. The win at Bay Hill was his third of the year (in five starts) — and sixth since the start of 2012 — getting him back to No. 1 in the world for the first time since 2010.

“Headed up here I feel very comfortable with where things are at,” he said. “I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game. … I’m excited that at this point in my career I’ve been able to get healthy and to be able to give myself another chance.”

But that’s no guarantee. The last time Woods won three times before the Masters — 2003 — he finished T-15 here. One other thing to note: It has been 11 years since No. 1 won the Masters; it was Woods.

With Woods back to playing well and Rory McIlroy playing well now, the patrons at Augusta National could be in for a Sunday showdown classics are made of.

McIlroy hadn’t done much since signing a big contract and changing equipment at the start of the season. He says he’s “very comfortable” with the equipment he’s playing and took a big step last week with a second place finish at the Texas Open.

“I’ve gone through these patches before where I haven’t played so well and the game feels quite far away,” McIlroy said, “and then something clicks and then all of a sudden it’s back again.

“When I don’t play my best it’s when I get into bad habits in my golf swing. Whenever my golf swing is where I want it to be, that’s when I produce results. And that’s what I’ve seen has started to happen over the past few weeks.”

Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.
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