Comfortable, confident Tiger Woods ready to win Masters again
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Two things were obvious here Tuesday: Tiger Woods looks like a spring chicken again, and walking into Augusta National makes me write like a 92-year-old man.
Let's just say he is really good at golf again, and in a fabulous mood. Woods cracked jokes with the media, talked about having "balance" in his life, and made fun of both his age and his inability to grow facial hair.
He did not say where he plans to hang his fifth green jacket when he goes to bed Sunday night. But he surely believes he will win it. And so do I.
What? That's not enough for you? Fine, then ...
Woods has won six of his last 20 tournaments, three of his last five, and his last two. Can you imagine any other current golfer other than Rory McIlroy putting together a stretch like that?
If you look for scratches on the diamond, you can point out that Woods' victories this year came at Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Doral three courses he knows better than the practice facility in his backyard. But he knows Augusta National pretty well, too. And experience means as much here as it does anywhere else.
Sure, Woods is first on the tour in strokes gained putting (1.476) and just 81st in total driving. But is that lucky putting, or great putting?
He has holed less than six percent of his putts from beyond 25 feet. That puts him 75th on tour. And he has holed less than 16 percent of his putts from 20 to 25 feet. That is 44th on tour.
He has done two things exceptionally well: Avoided three-putts (he is No. 4 on tour), and rammed home putts from five to 20 feet. Those are a function of great putting more than luck. Woods is lagging his long putts well and confidently sinking the more makeable ones.
As for the driver ... well, look at it another way: Woods has been mediocre off the tee, and he is beating everybody anyway. What happens if he drives it as well as anybody this week? It's very possible, you know. He was fifth on tour in total driving last year.
The galleries at Augusta National got a look at the new, more socially aware Woods that I wrote about in last week's Sports Illustrated. As he walked from the driving range toward the first tee Tuesday, he pulled out a marker and signed autographs. He chose an afternoon practice time, which doesn't sound like a big deal, except that Woods has played his practice rounds just after dawn for as long as anybody can remember. He does it because he doesn't sleep much anyway, and he can at least play a couple of holes in relative privacy before waves of people find him.
It was another indication that Woods is more comfortable with the attention that comes with his fame. But it may also be a window into how Woods gives himself every possible advantage.
When Woods was asked about the afternoon time, he smiled and said "Just wanted to mess with you. Did it work?" But, of course, he had a reason. Tiger Woods does not change his practice schedule during Masters week on a whim.
My guess is that he wanted to wait until the sun dried the course. It was lush and soft in the morning, and Woods knows that the membership will make sure the course is dry Thursday, when the shots matter.
Hey, this is golf. There are a hundred variables, and any of them could keep Woods from winning his first major since 2008. But he is working on every one of those variables. He will win a major soon. He is playing too well. This feels like the right time, the right place, and once again, the right golfer.