Woods appears poised to end drought at Augusta
Tiger Woods in a green jacket once felt like an annual celebration of spring, as regular as the azaleas bursting with color at Augusta National.
Now it's more like a fading memory.
It has been eight years since Woods rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt to win the Masters in a playoff for his fourth green jacket. He appeared to be well on his way to living up to the audacious prediction made by Jack Nicklaus, who played a practice round at Augusta with Woods — then a 19-year-old amateur — and Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus came away so impressed that he considered his six Masters and Palmer's four and said, “This kid should win more than that.”
But the major Woods was supposed to dominate has become the one he can't seem to win anymore.
“It's been one of those things where I've been close there so many times on that back nine on Sunday, and I just haven't won,” Woods said. “I've been in the mix. Been on the periphery and played myself into the mix. I've been right there with just a few holes to go, and it just hasn't happened. Hopefully this year it will be a different story.”
This might be his best chance to end the drought, not only at the Masters but in the majors. His last came at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Woods is healthy for the first time in years. He appears happy after a scandal that ruined his marriage and his image, announcing a few weeks ago that he's dating Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn. He is winning again at an alarming rate — six out of his last 20 on the PGA Tour, including consecutive wins heading into the Masters. And he is back to No. 1 in the world.
“Everyone is waiting for the first major. I don't know why they're waiting for that,” Hunter Mahan said. “I think he's done enough this year to realize that he's still really good and he's still better than everyone else.”
Now all Woods needs is another green jacket.
Woods had six three-putts in 2006, twice missing eagle chances inside 15 feet on the back Sunday when he finished three shots behind Phil Mickelson. Those close to Woods suspected he was trying too hard, knowing it would be the last time his father watched the Masters. Earl Woods died a month later.
But the losses kept piling up. Woods couldn't catch Zach Johnson in '07. A cold putter stopped him in '09. In his last great chance in 2011, he was tied for the lead going to the back nine Sunday and played it even par.
“Why has Tiger not won there in eight years? I don't know,” Graeme McDowell said. “I guess the style in which guys play nowadays, guys are long and aggressive, and it's not like Tiger back in '97 when he dominated people with his length.”
In so many ways, that '97 Masters seems like a long time ago.
Woods had been married about six months when he last won the Masters in '05. He was just starting to figure out the swing changes under his new coach, Hank Haney. The Nicklaus record seemed to be a matter of when, not if.
Based on the two months leading up to the Masters, Woods looks poised to get back on track in his pursuit of Nicklaus. His Sunday red shirt has looked brighter than ever this year. It might look even more intimidating under a green jacket.