How many of us could’ve predicted Tiger Woods, eleven years after capturing his last Major title, rocking the golfing with a wondrous performance to win the Masters by a single stroke at Augusta National last year?
With a weight of expectation on his shoulders going into the final round just two shots behind Francesco Molinari’s lead, Woods drew on the electric energy of the crowd to power home to victory with a two-under par 70 and a 13-under winning total. It was a throwback to Tiger’s glory days as those around him faltered under the name ‘Woods’ atop the leaderboard while the constant Sunday roar that ripped through the Georgia pines was a familiar soundtrack that only he can conjure.
The question now is, can Woods do it again, on a much cooler week in November and with no crowds present? Will his aching back hold up in wintry conditions without the adrenaline of his unmatched Masters following shouting his name from outside the ropes? Write Tiger off at your peril, though even the now 44-year old 15-time Major winner admits this year’s renewal will take some getting used to.
“It’s going to be odd without fans but it’s still the Masters,” says Woods, who explained how the lack of crowds will impact even the practicalities of the tournament as he knows it:
“On 7 you aim at one spectator and you’re going to cut it to another. That’s what I’ve done in the past, but there’s going to be no background, no roars. Sometimes we’ve been on the putting green there before we tee off and you hear roars down there 12 and 13, they reverberate all the way up to the clubhouse, and there’s going to be nothing. So that’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks is what is that going to be like.”
In truth, if this week’s event was being played anywhere else, you could be quick to dismiss the chances of Woods given his recent form. His final competitive run-out prior to this week culminated in Tiger finishing down the bottom of the pack at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, a tournament he bookended with rounds of 76 and 74, while you have to go all the way back to the Farmers Insurance Open in January to find the last time Woods banked a top-10 finish.
However, at this stage in his career, and despite the steely competitor Tiger is known to be no matter where he’s teeing up, you can be sure Woods is placing a premium on Major titles, and not Zozo championships, and he’ll have targeted Augusta National a long way out as a place he wants to peak once more.
“Each and every year it’s the same thing, hitting the ball high draws, making sure I can hit a high draw anytime I want,” Woods said of the one shot he’s been working on tirelessly to ensure he’s ready for this year’s tournament.
“That’s always been my game plan ever since I was an amateur, making sure that once I played it for the first time in ’95 that I can get that ball up and turning from right to left.”
If there is such thing as a winning Masters formula, then there’s no denying that Woods has found it and should his name be anywhere near the top of the pile come Sunday, even without the famous roars to accompany it, that aura of Woods, a presence amongst the pines that no one else possesses, may prove impossible to escape.
Listen to our Masters preview Podcast featuring James Sugrue, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell by clicking the cover below or click HERE