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Tiger’s Tempus

Like it or not, this Masters is about Tiger. There are 92 other players in the field and it very well might be that one of them wins the year’s first major championship, except for maybe Guan Tianlang or Sandy Lyle. Until then, however, the white heat of the glaring spotlight will return to Woods, the current world No. 1. That’s just the way he likes it and some people don’t. Whether he would admit it or not, he wants to be the center of attention and the player to beat more than he likes to eat when he’s hungry. And at the moment, he’s hungry. Tiger’s chance to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors very well could hinge on the outcome of this week’s Masters. If he wins, then the record is in reach. If not, well, he’s 37 and the rest of this year’s major venues don’t exactly suit Woods’ proclivity to hit tee shots wide right. Tempus, the great enemy of those who seek to make history, will begin to fugit for Tiger the more of these he fails to win. While we’ve gone practically all gushy about Tiger being back or never gone or wherever he is or has been, all these club championships he’s won lately won’t mean a thing if he can’t put the car in drive at Augusta National this week. The fact remains that Woods’ renaissance is not complete. Not just yet. He won this year already at Torrey Pines and Doral and Bay Hill, where he’s won a combined 20 times in his career. In fact, almost half his 77 PGA Tour victories have come at six golf courses, including four at Augusta National, which by all counts should have rightly been three or four more. He simply won’t play at events where he hates the courses (unless it’s like the Players, where he almost has to) and by extension has no chance to win. Call that chicken stuff or good business, work that out for yourself. But the fact remains that Tiger hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where he beat Rocco Mediate in 91 holes on one leg. And he hasn’t won The Masters since 2005, but six times has finished in the top six since then. The Masters is and remains Woods’ best chance to punch his ticket on the major train because Augusta National accentuates his strengths and hides his weaknesses. It has enough room to be a little wayward off the tee and demands a superior short game, which appears to have returned for Tiger after a brief hiatus. Yes, there are others in the field who have a chance to win and let us not make the mistake of thinking this is a one-man Masters. But none of the usual suspects are getting anyone particularly excited. Phil Mickelson, who has won two Masters since Tiger won his last one, is not in very good form at present. But Mickelson has such a great love for this major and the venue that his game has the capacity to turn on a dime, and wouldn’t we just love a Tiger-Phil showdown on Sunday? Rory McIlroy can’t find his game with both hands and a flashlight, and the defending champion just might be a one-Bubba wonder. Dustin Johnson has plenty of game and The Masters fits him like a custom suit, but whether he has the insides to do what it takes on Sunday is anybody’s guess, probably even his, which is a problem. Lee Westwood doesn’t putt well enough, Justin Rose doesn’t seem to like the spotlight all that much, Louis Oosthuizen still has scar tissue from the playoff last year and Charl Schwartzel had to make birdies on the last four holes to win his green jacket two years ago. Steve Stricker putts the lights out but isn’t long enough off the tee, Matt Kuchar is consistent but can’t put up a really low round on the weekend, Webb Simpson is still trying to figure out what it means to be a major champion and Keegan Bradley is learning how to play Augusta National from his good bud, Mickelson. Ernie Els has won his last major, Luke Donald hasn’t won his first, Adam Scott had a chance a couple of years ago and couldn’t make putts when it counted (sound familiar?) and Brandt Snedeker hasn’t quite worked out what’s going on with his hurting ribs. So that leaves Tiger. He looked so beatable in the past six years and he was. He lost his game, lost his nerve and lost his way. Now, he’s fresh out of excuses and freshly full of confidence, a dangerous combination if there ever was one. He used to go to the first tee and start eliminating people he had to beat, much in the same way Nicklaus once did. Tiger is not feared anymore and maybe that’s a mistake. Because when The Masters commences in just a few days, he will be the player that everyone watches. And that suits him just fine.


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