By Ann Liguori
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Tiger’s stunning crescendo of play so far this season, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week by five strokes, bursting ‘I’m Ready’ in the ‘stats’ department, makes this upcoming Masters one of the most anticipated Majors ever!
Tiger hasn’t won a Major in three years and ten 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 Cowboys QB Tony Romo), Tiger missed seven putts from inside 10 feet and three from within 3 feet! Phil beat him by 11 strokes! (Romo shot a better score than Tiger!) It was the fifth straight time and the ninth time in 12 that Phil had a better score than Tiger when playing with Tiger 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 3 over through 11 holes when he exited. Tightness in his left Achilles was his reason.
But just when Tiger’s world looked bleak again, with questions about his left leg, two weeks later at Bay Hill, Tiger’s play looked as strong as ever, flashing back to the years he dominated the Tour. He won his first PGA Tour event since September 2009 by beating 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 ‘1st’ in Total Driving’ which is the combination of total distance and accuracy. He is ranked No. 1 in what’s called 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 2nd in scoring average at 68.27. (Rory is 1st at 67.53). Tiger is ranked 1st in ball striking, 1st in putting from 20-25 feet and from 3-5 feet. He’s 3rd 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 melt-down last year at Augusta, and win his first Masters; or if Phil Mickelson can rekindle the magic that won him three Masters Championships; or if Luke Donald and Lee Westwood win their first Major; or any number of players string four brilliant rounds together, the anticipation for next week’s Masters can’t be greater.
And with Tiger peaking at just the right time, EVERYONE will be watching!
Will you be rooting for Tiger at Augusta? Sound off below!