AUGUSTA, Ga. — The last time Tiger Woods won the Masters, the Mets still were playing at Shea Stadium, Zion Williamson had not started playing basketball or going to school and there was no such thing as an iPhone.
In golf terms, all of that means only one thing: He’s due.
With anyone else, the passage of 14 years without a win at a particular venue would suggest that the place passed him by. Not with Woods. Fellow pros, analysts, fans, handicappers all believe he still can win here even though he has not done so since 2005. So does Woods.
Of course, he always has professed belief in his own chances. That is part of his persona. But he was honest enough with himself two years ago to admit he thought he never would play competitive golf again. Spinal fusion surgery helped him prove himself wrong on that score, then he went out and nearly won both the British Open and PGA Championship and did win the Tour Championship. Why not pick him this week in the office pool?
“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. I was right there and just needed to have a couple more things go my way and not throw away a couple shots here and there,” he said Tuesday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club. “I just feel 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.”
At 43, Woods is a bit like a veteran pitcher who learns how to be crafty when he can’t overpower batters anymore. He doesn’t thoroughly outdrive the field, as he did when he ran away with the Masters in 1997. He compensates by tapping his memory and the experiences of other former champions. “I’ve got quite a pretty good little library in my head of how to play the golf course,” he said.
Local knowledge might mean most for him on the greens because his putting is not as consistent as it once was. He admitted that his back does not allow him to practice putting as much as he used to.
Still, neither that nor the fact his 14-year green jacket drought is longer even than the one Jack Nicklaus had before his stunning win in 1986, dissuades golf people from thinking he has as good a shot as anyone.
In an anonymous poll conducted by Golf magazine, 75 percent of tour pros believe Woods will win at least one more Masters (as opposed 13 percent who said the same about Phil Mickelson). “You know it would be pretty cool, but at the same time, hopefully I can go ahead and fight him for it,” said defending champion Patrick Reed, who has become friendly with Woods.
Augusta National energizes Woods in a way no place else does. He loves the drive on Magnolia Lane, the sight of the same spectators sitting at the same holes every year, the distinguishable roars (you can tell an eagle from a birdie, and a Tiger birdie from anyone else’s birdie) and the respectfulness. “It’s not like most tour events where if you get the ball in the air, you’re the man,” said the golfer who probably has heard more “You the man!” shouts than anyone else.
“It’s fun for me, the fact that I can get people fired up like that, and that they enjoy something I love to do,” Woods said.
Fourteen years between honored trips to Butler Cabin is a long time. Can a fellow start longing?
“I don’t really need to win again,” the four-time champion said. “I really want to.”
Tiger Woods’ Masters drought:
Year Finish Score
2018 T32 +1
2015 T17 -5
2013 T4 -5
2012 T40 +5
2011 T4 -10
2010 T4 -11
2009 T6 -8
2008 2nd -5
2007 T2 +3
2006 T3 -4