Tiger Woods feels ready for another Masters moment
A year ago, just days before his Masters return following a two-year absence, Tiger Woods described himself as a “walking miracle.” Even after a lower back fusion, he was amazed by the speed and power his body could still produce and encouraged by the results he’d seen early in the PGA Tour season.
Flash forward to Tuesday, Woods sitting in the Augusta National Media Center and reflecting on his sensational summer of 2018, where he contended in the final round of the season’s final two majors and won the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Photos: Tiger's Tuesday Masters Practice
He enters this week aiming higher, feeding off the confidence gained from beating a strong field at East Lake and eager to chase a fifth Masters victory.
“I feel like I can win,” Woods said. “I’ve proven that I can do it and I put myself there with a chance to win the last two major championships of the year last year. I was right there and just needed to have a couple more things to go my way and not throw away a couple shots here and there, which I was able to do at East Lake.”
Woods, ranked No. 12 in the world, tees off at 11:04 a.m. Thursday with Haotong Li and Jon Rahm.
“I just feel like that I’ve improved a lot over the past 12, 14 months, but I’ve more than anything just proven to myself that I can play at this level again,” he said. “I’ve worked my way back into one of the players that can win events.”
The question is, can the 43-year-old Woods, who hasn’t won a major since 2008 or a Masters since 2005, put all the pieces of his game together for four rounds under golf’s brightest spotlight?
Woods tied for 32nd last year, failing to break par in the first three rounds before a closing 69 on a day when Augusta National was set up to yield birdies.
While his Masters record is beyond compare in this generation – 12 top-6 finishes, a 70.93 stroke average and 88-under in 82 rounds – Woods’ recent results are less impressive. Only one of those top-5 finishes is in the four Masters he’s entered since 2011.
Suspect ball-striking has kept him off the leaderboard. Starting with his record 12-shot victory in 1997, Woods finished top-10 in greens in regulation in 12 of his first 15 Masters as a professional. He led the field in 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2002. In his last four appearances, however, Woods has been 21st or worse.
If his ball-striking in four PGA Tour stroke play tournaments this season is a indicator, though, Woods should enjoy more putts for birdie this week. Woods is 16th in strokes gained approaching the green and ninth in strokes gained tee-to-green.
During a practice session Monday, he appeared to be in total command of his fairway woods, long irons and wedges.
The putter has hindered his progress. He putted horribly in the Genesis Open at Riviera and again at the WGC-Mexcio Championship. He’s 74th on Tour in strokes gained putting.
Photos: Tuesday Masters Practice Round
And his fused spine and Father Time don’t allow the lengthy practice sessions that were commonplace in his prime.
“Yeah, I feel I can still putt,” he said. “I just can’t log in the time that I used to and that goes with every part of my game. I can’t work on every single part of my game every day, I have to pick different parts of my game to work on and that’s the challenge I now face going forward and just have to figure it out and try to create a good balance there to find a prep of what I need to work on, and it was ‑‑ it was a little bit easier when I could work on everything, but that’s no longer the case.”