Five reasons Tiger will win the Masters
Tiger Woods has six victories in his past 20 global events, including two in a row and three in 2013. It has been years since he headed into the Masters with more momentum and swagger.
"I feel like it's his to lose," said Paul Azinger, a former major winner who will serve as an analyst on ESPN's coverage this week. "It's all on him this week. If Tiger plays well, what does it matter what the other ones do?"
A field-wide sense of futility seems to have taken root as the 37-year-old Woods seeks to plough under the former plant nursery known as Augusta National for the fifth time.
Here are five reasons - using both hard data and objective observation - regarding why Woods is the marked man once again.
It is all about the putter, the club that has cost Woods chances to win at least three titles at Augusta over the past decade. After years of putting well below his traditional standard, Woods this year leads the PGA Tour in its most crucial putting category - which he has never done over an entire season. He used a career-low 100 putts in winning in Miami last month, and two weeks later at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he was nearly as deadly, using 110 putts.
At Augusta, the putter is the most important club in the bag. After costing him Masters chances in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011, the putter has become a help, not a hindrance.
It is a Masters truism: players must absolutely, positively take care of business on the four par-5 holes, all of which Woods can reach in two shots.
Just like during his peak years, Woods is again shredding the par-5s, leading the US tour with an otherworldly 4.29 average.
Here is an arresting way of putting it: Woods has nine times led the tour in par-5 scoring, but never before has he finished the season with an average this good. He is playing the par-5s an average of 11 shots under par for a week, a number that might be enough to win the tournament outright.
3. Fear factor
Outside of the numbers on the final-round scoreboard, and the aura of invincibility it connotes, it is difficult to quantify what Woods's recent surge has done for his once-steely reputation, which was sullied by his 30-month victory drought and the scandal that preceded it.
With six victories in 13 months, the most in the game over that span, players no longer look at Woods as just another player, a common sentiment for quite a while. The fear factor, to a large degree, has returned.
"When you are standing on the first tee with Tiger Woods on Sunday this year at the Masters, you know darned well you have to play one of your best rounds ever to win this tournament, because he's going to play well," ESPN's Curtis Strange said. "That, in itself, is intimidating."
Who is going to stop him? Until last week, when the world No 2 Rory McIlroy finally put together four good rounds to finish second in San Antonio, the game's top guns had mostly struggled to get noticed this season.
After Woods, the other nine in the world top 10 have combined to win four titles in 2013. Throw out Phil Mickelson, and the other nine have amassed three major titles, two by McIlroy, who has laboured when contending on past Augusta National weekends.
5. Being happy
Last year, Woods had snapped a 30-month winless drought at Bay Hill, his final start before the Masters, and the collective golf world pronounced him fit and ready to resume his Augusta dominance. He skidded to 40th, his worst Masters finish.
What is the difference this time? Seemingly everything. His personal life appears in order and the taunting airplane banners that flew overhead at Augusta three years ago might not be forgotten, but they are long gone.
In the man's head and the heart, that is as invaluable as a win.
Five reasons why Tiger won't win
Have they handed out the green jacket already? Woods has not won at the Masters since 2005, the longest winless streak for the No 1 at any of the four majors and, truth be told, he has not contended over the final hour at Augusta National in years, despite what the final leaderboard might indicate.
The Masters is decided on the back nine on Sunday, as the saying goes, and mostly, Woods has been struggling during the past seven years to remain on the periphery of contention by then. Statistics can be used to mitigate or militate, but here are five reasons why Woods will not win this week at Augusta National.
1. Major drought
He not only has not won at Augusta since 2005, he has not won any major since 2008, the longest grand-slam drought of his career. Granted, he missed a couple of majors because of injury in that span, but that does not mean the arc of time is any shorter.
His rust was never more evident than in 2012, when he was tied for the 36-hole lead at the US Open and PGA Championship, and three back at the British Open at the halfway point.
He played the eight weekend rounds at the 2012 majors in a dismal 15-over. He did not break par once. Woods has won all 14 of his majors by leading after 54 holes. Now, he cannot get past Saturday.
2. Course change
This is not Bobby Jones's golf course anymore. Since the six new tees were added and the course was stretched to 7,435 yards, before the 2006 tournament, Woods has not been nearly as explosive.
It was called "Tiger proofing" at the time, though lengthening the course seemed to play into his power game. But they added trees in several key spots, too, notably on the seventh and 11th holes, where he has had consistent trouble over the ensuing years.
"We all made a joke about needing to Tiger-proof these courses," ESPN's Andy North said. "They've done that in some way at Augusta National."
Woods last won at Augusta in 2005. In sports terms, that is an aeon. Moreover, how long ago was that on the personal front?
He had been married exactly six months. A lot of personal and professional water has passed under Augusta's Hogan Bridge since then. Much of it muddy.
4. Tee shots
Accuracy off the tee, never his strong suit, has become more important. Sure, the rough at Augusta is minimal, but enough of it can be found, and Woods has not exactly been dissecting fairways during his otherwise torrid spring.
In his three US wins, he finished 17th, 30th and 71st in driving accuracy for the week, putting more pressure on his putter.
"We have not seen him drive the ball but just barely decent in those three wins," Strange said.
5. Bad omens
Is it a quirk of fate? Random happenstance? Sure, with three wins and the No 1 position reclaimed, Woods is riding as high as ever at this point in a season, but what does it really mean as it relates to winning the Masters?
The current scenario is a familiar one. The other three times that Woods won thrice before the Masters - in 2000, 2003 and 2008 - he fell short at Augusta.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE