Tiger's stunning crescendo of play so far this season, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week by five strokes, makes this upcoming Masters one of the most anticipated majors ever!
Tiger hasn't won a major in three years and 10 months. There's a lot on the line particularly at this stage of the game when you're Tiger Woods. He's 36-years-old and has endured a life-long ambition of winning more majors than Jack Nicklaus. Whether he can eventually accomplish that feat is still up for debate. But his game is finally ready to win next week's Masters.
After an agonizing winless drought that included the turmoil of his personal life 'gone wild,' coach changes, swing changes, caddie changes, a variety of injuries, etc., Tiger's game looks sharp and consistent enough to put four straight stunning rounds together at Augusta, not to mention a happy, positive mental frame of mind that comes when all parts of Tiger's game are working the way he's intended it to work. And how quickly it all turned around, seemingly, although Tiger knows it has been a work in progress since changing his swing under coach Sean Foley, whom he has worked with for the past 18 months.
In February, at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, playing with Phil Mickelson (and Cowboy's QB Tony Romo), Tiger missed seven putts from inside 10 feet and three from within 3 feet! Phil beat him by 11 strokes! (Tony Romo shot a better score than Tiger!) It was the fifth straight time and the ninth time in twelve instances that Phil had a better score than Tiger when playing with him in the final round.
Then three weeks later at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships, Tiger missed a five-foot birdie putt on the last hole to lose in the second round.
Then Tiger turned it around big time at The Honda Classic, shooting his best final round score ever -- a 62. But as incredible a round as that was, it still wasn't good enough to catch Rory McIlroy. Tiger lost by two shots. Rory became the top-ranked golfer in the world with his win there. And with Tiger's stellar play at The Honda, and with the improvement of his putting and iron play, his stats started looking more familiar.
Then came his abrupt withdrawal from the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in the final round after hitting his tee shot on the 12th hole. He was three-over through 11 holes when he exited. Tightness in his left Achilles was his reason.
But a week and a half later at Bay Hill, just when Tiger's world looked bleak again, his play was as strong as ever. Tiger flashed back to the years where he dominated the Tour, winning his first PGA Tour event since September 2009. He beat Graeme McDowell by five shots. He made clutch putts, hit sharp iron shots and worked the ball left to right and right to left. The ball went exactly where he wanted it to go. It was vintage Tiger with a new swing and the stats proved it.
Amongst PGA Tour players, he is ranked first in total driving, which is the combination of total distance and accuracy. He is ranked first in the all-around ranking, which combines eight different statistical areas including scoring leaders, putting leaders, eagle leaders, birdie leaders, sand saves, greens in regulation, driving distance and driving accuracy. He is ranked second in scoring average at 68.27 (Rory is first at 67.53). Tiger is ranked first in ball striking, putting from 20-25 feet and from three to five feet. He's third in hitting greens in regulation from 175-200 yards out. Talk about a turn-around since February! Tiger is right where he wants to be heading into the first major of the year!
But adding to the drama, there are over a dozen guys who can win The Masters -- since Tiger's last PGA Tour win, there have been 72 different winners!
There will be no lack of stories and excitement. Whether Tiger wins his fifth green jacket or 22-year-old Rory McIlroy can shake off the agonizing memories of his final round meltdown last year at Augusta, and win his first Masters or if Phil Mickelson can rekindle the magic that won him three Masters Championships. Will Luke Donald and Lee Westwood win their first Major? Or even the possibility that any number of players could string four brilliant rounds together all results in the anticipation for next week's Masters being tremendous. And with Tiger peaking at just the right time, everyone will be watching!
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