Tiger full of confidence ahead of the Masters
April 09, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Players to watch at the 2019 Masters Tournament
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The last time we saw Tiger Woods on a golf course in Georgia with ties to the great Bobby Jones, Woods was being trailed by an uproarious throng that had been whipped into a frenzy by his impending victory. They trailed Woods with cell phones held aloft, hoping to capture footage of a victory that not long ago seemed unfathomable.
This week, Woods is looking for a similar result to the one he had last September at the TOUR Championship. The scene would be much different this time, though, even if he did replicate his 12-shot victory from 1997.
Patrons cannot bring their cell phones onto the grounds of Augusta National. And the ever-present Pinkerton security guards would ensure that the gallery ropes lining the final fairway remained intact.
But that incredible scene at East Lake, even if it may never be replicated, also is helpful this week, for it reminds him that he is capable of winning on the PGA TOUR. That’s the biggest difference from last year, when Woods arrived at Augusta National on the heels of two promising finishes but never came close to contending.
Woods’ top-fives at last year’s Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard proved that Woods’ latest comeback was the real deal. But those were just close calls. He was still in the midst of an injury-extended winless drought that had endured since 2013.
“I just feel like I’ve improved a lot over the past 12, 14 months, but more than anything I’ve proven to myself that I can play at this level again,” Woods said. “I’ve worked my way back into one of the players that can win events.”
Not only did Woods win last year, but he also finished second and sixth in the past two majors.
He’s two wins short of Sam Snead’s PGA TOUR record. He needs four more major titles to tie Jack Nicklaus’ majors mark.
The Masters is the major that has most defined Woods’ career. His win in 1997 was groundbreaking. Then he completed the Tiger Slam here four years later. He went back-to-back with another win a year later. And his improbable chip-in in 2005, when he needed every shot to dispatch a determined Chris DiMarco, remains one of the most memorable shots in Masters history.
But that victory from 14 years ago remains his last win at Augusta National. He hasn’t won a major in nearly 11 years.
While he used to use his length to decimate the risk-reward par-5s on Alister Mackenzie’s design, Woods now has to rely on his guile and experience.
He still averages more than 300 yards per tee shot, but that’s no longer an eye-popping mark. It’s just slightly above average. Woods ranks 44th in driving distance this season.
The putter is another club that separated Woods from his competition during his prime. Woods is 43 now, though, and it’s well-documented that the aging process impacts players’ ability to read greens. He ranks 74th in Strokes Gained: Putting this season. The last competitive shot that we saw from Woods was a missed 4-footer to lose his quarterfinal match to Lucas Bjerregaard at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Woods may not be able to regain the distance advantage of his youth, but he thinks he can become a premier putter again, especially on the greens of Augusta National that require so much experience to read properly.
“The hardest part is I just can’t practice like I used to. My back gets sore. I just can’t log the in the time that I used to,” Woods said. “I’ve worked on my putting, and when I have, I’ve putted well. … I just can’t do all things all the time anymore.”
He’s still one of the game’s best iron players, even if the clubs have gotten longer. But contending at the Masters, which used to be an annual occurrence for Woods, is no longer a guarantee.
He made last year’s cut with just a shot to spare, keeping alive his streak of 19 consecutive cuts made at Augusta National. He has never missed the Masters cut as a professional.
He has finished outside the top 15 in three of his past four Masters. That’s more finishes outside the top 15 than he had in his first 15 Masters as a pro (two). Last year was just the third time as a pro that Woods failed to break par in the first three rounds at Augusta National.
He can never be counted out at Augusta National, though.