So much of the hype leading into this week’s Masters is related to Mr. Tiger Woods and whether or not he can finally end his near ten-year drought in major championships. It’s been even longer since his last green jacket — thirteen years. That he has a chance this week at all, a good one, in fact, is remarkable considering where he was 8 months ago. Publically humiliated after a DUI arrest and ensuing salacious mugshot, on top of all the back and knee trouble he has had pre-dating the 2009/2010 sex scandal, it seemed entirely plausible that Tiger may never play again.
And yet — defying the odds as only he can — he has indeed played, and played quite well. On the season so far he has garnered four top twenty-five finishes, two top tens and a runner-up at the Valspar championship in early March. He also had a chance to win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational a few weeks ago before a brainfart off the tee on the sixteenth hole on Sunday cost him. Occasional mental mistakes aside, Tiger has refound something in his game, and the old magic appears to be back.
His stats so far this season are impressive. He is in the top twenty-five of just about every strokes-gained category (save for driving), highlighted by 6th place in strokes gained around the green, 14th in strokes gained approaching the green and 11th in strokes gained-putting. He is fifth in overall scoring average and third in putts per round.
Tiger will be the most decorated Masters player in the field, what with his four green jackets, eleven top fives and thirteen top tens in twenty starts. Augusta National is a real veteran’s course, requiring experience and knowledge of it’s intricate, deceptive greens. Tiger, at 42, would indeed qualify as such a veteran, though he’s always had an almost spiritual connection with Augusta and the Masters.
If Tiger is to win, there are a couple of keys. In recent years, Tiger’s play off the tee at Augusta has held him back from truly contending. He will have the drive the ball consistently and avoid big misses into the trees on holes like one, nine, ten, thirteen and eighteen, among others. If he puts the ball in the fairway most of the time, if not all, he will be right there on Sunday.
The other big key for Tiger will be to relax. A noticeable tenant in Tiger’s experience on the golf course since the sex scandal, not just at Augusta but in general, has been a tendency to put too much pressure on himself week in and week out. One can see it in his breathing, his pained reaction to missed putts, his exasperation in imperfect iron shots. He will need to accept his trials and tribulations, the occasional mistake and not get bogged down. If he can take it all in stride, he will be better served and will be able to recollect himself. Too often this decade he loses his nerve during rounds over things he either cannot control or can fix but won’t, blinded by anger and nerves.
Tiger will be playing with accomplished internationalists Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood. They will tee off at 10:42 on Thursday and 1:27 on Friday.