Count Tiger Woods Out? Not at Augusta National

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The most mesmerizing moment of Tiger Woods' seismic 2019 Masters victory was the intimidating silence of a silent look. Standing defiantly on the 12th green with arms folded over his chest on the final lap, Woods stared relentlessly at his closest rivals.

Seconds before, Woods had cunningly and conservatively traversed the small but treacherous creek protecting the crucial green, safely positioning his golf ball 30 feet from the hole. His game partners, Francisco Molinari and Tony Finau, rash and inadvertently hit their balls in the water. With a condescending attitude, Woods walked alone to the green of the plateau and, from the other side of the creek, looked down at Molinari and Finau as they sadly dropped new golf balls – futile first steps in a failed rally.

By the time the players left the green, Woods was even in the lead and on his way to a stunning victory.

Do you want to know if, even after 19 erratic months, Woods can defend his Masters title. week? The answer is in his telling look at the melting pot of the 2019 tournament.

"It was a pure tiger moment," Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, recalled the scene last month. “It was the perfect example of how he uses his vast Masters experience. Tiger went to the green and looked back to say, "I might be 43 years old, but I'm still the guy around here."

Illuminator on the secrets of success at the Augusta National Golf Club More than any other player in the field this year, Woods has not only won the Masters five times, he's also been in the top five seven times. finished in its 22 tournaments. Even when his game isn't sharp or when he's competing after a long layoff from golf – or both – Woods has usually managed to compete against Augusta National.

There is no better example than the Masters of 2010, when Woods returned from a five-month exile, necessitated by the scandal of his marital infidelity. Despite harsh reproaches from fans and then Augusta National chairman, Billy Payne, Woods remained in the chase until the final holes, finishing fourth.

"I would never count Tiger Woods in the Masters. Because he knows and loves Augusta so well, and that evokes very positive feelings," said Bernhard Langer, who has won the Masters twice and finished in eighth place at the 2014 tournament at the age of 56. "It's that kind of place, and Tiger has 25 years of memories to draw from."

But in a sports year that unlike any other in the modern era, Woods has been a much less terrifying presence due to his dashing lower back, which has been surgically repaired.time Woods did not play often and did several scintillating rounds when his swing was smooth and his movements smooth. But it has been just as common to see Woods limping 24 hours later, with one hand pressed against a back warped by molded bones and scars, toiling in vain with pain.

In July, after one such un Achieving success in consecutive rounds of the Memorial Tournament, Woods explained the unpredictability of his back from hour to hour. That morning he felt limber when he woke up, but a few hours later he was too stiff to make a full golf swing. "It will happen more often than not," he said and smiled.

This is the new reality of Woods, including the understanding that if he is going to win the three major golf championships, Jack Nicklaus has a record 18, or equal to Nicklaus' record six Masters titles, it probably will must happen in the coming years.

With the clock ticking this season, Woods is struggling. In the six tournaments he has competed in since the PGA Tour resumed in June after a three-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic, Woods has finished no higher than a draw for 37th. In the five majors he's played since his Masters win in 2019, he has missed the cut three times, tied for 21st and tied for 37th.

Nevertheless, his much younger peers on the PGA Tour, as well as his contemporaries in the champion-only Augusta National dressing room, consider him uniformly one of the favorites this week. That also applies to online gambling sites.

"The whole world saw what Tiger did in the final round last year as he methodically chased every name for him on the scoreboard," said Gary Woodland, the United States 2019 Open champion. "It was a testament to his talent, but also showed the depth of his invaluable experience on that golf course."

Since the Masters is the only major championship to be played annually on the same course, familiarity with the layout has always been around. a significant advantage. In an interview late last month, Nick Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, said he thought the experience of playing the tournament multiple times could be worth four to eight strokes in the four rounds of the event.

"Putts that appear to break two feet actually break two and a half meters, and a brilliant shot that lands three feet from the hole but ends up four feet above the green on the wrong side of that hole," said Faldo , who will be an analyst for CBS at this year's tournament. "Everyone tries to keep the ball under the hole, but if you are 185 yards away, that won't always happen. So you better learn to be comfortable making slopes so steep that your ball will go back into the fairway. The mental tension you deal with is constant. "

Rory McIlroy, & # 39; the world's fifth player, said Augusta National's challenges were so subtle that they could not be explained , but instead had to be experienced. For example, the 14th hole is the only one on site without a bunker, but the green is deceptively diabolical.

"The putt on the hill on the 14th green is the slowest putt on the entire course," said McIlroy, adding that few players realize how hard to stroke the ball until they hit it two or three times 10 feet in front of the hole.

This year the challenge will be another first: a Masters in November rather than in its traditional role as an April ritual. Not surprisingly, Woods is one of the few leading players who played several rounds at Augusta National in November.

"It's been cold, the ball isn't going far," he said last month about those outings

Also the prevailing wind of spring tends to “If you get the north wind at that time of year,” Woods said, “it can be awfully difficult and long, and very different from what we normally play in April.”

In recent months, it is Obviously cold woe The vulnerability of Woods' back is worsening, and that has only added to the belief that his window of championship greatness is closing.

"There will come a time when Tiger won't be one of the favorites." Said Immelman, a CBS golf analyst. "I don't think the time is right, though. He still has different powers from the rest of us and an amazing ability to take the opportunity no matter what the circumstances.

Phil Mickelson, Woods & # 39; oldest major rival in the field, has spent the past few weeks wondering if the wind and chill of November could be beneficial to a golfer whose power is precise iron play instead of length from the tee. Mickelson pointed out the 2007 Masters, which was played in inclement weather and won by Zach Johnson, whose strongest point is accuracy and consistency.

It's worth noting that Woods finished second that year, two strokes behind Johnson.

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