AUGUSTA, Georgia – Tiger Woods is excited about his chances of winning the Masters after ending a 28-month win drought and that has golf fans around the world thrilled about next week’s Augusta National showdown.
Woods had not won a tour-sanctioned event since the 2009 Australian Masters, and the subsequent eruption of his infamous sex scandal, until capturing his seventh US PGA title at Bay Hill last Sunday to boost his optimism for Augusta.
“I’m excited, there’s no doubt,” Woods said. “Looking forward to [using] the momentum I built.”
British oddsmakers made him as a betting favorite just ahead of reigning US Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland with three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson third.
McIlroy, who led last year’s Masters after each of the first three days and entering Sunday’s back nine before a nightmare finish, edged Woods at the Honda Classic four weeks ago to earn a two-week stint as World No. 1.
“I would love to have a lot of battles with him coming down the stretch and it would be great to be able to do that at Augusta,” McIlroy said.
The buzz Woods brings to an event has clearly returned, even if it’s not yet certain he has what it takes to add to his total of 14 major titles, four shy of the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
“Everybody feel that…that’s the earth rotating on its proper axis again. #Tigerwins,” US PGA player Arron Oberholser posted on his Twitter website.
Woods is talking tough about nudging nearer to the major win record of his boyhood idol by winning a fifth green jacket, having won at Augusta in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.
But Woods, who has not been worse than sixth at the Masters since 2004, could catch Nicklaus in another category with a Masters victory. It would be the 73rd career US PGA title for Woods, matching the Golden Bear for second on the all-time list behind Sam Snead’s record 82 triumphs.
“I’m looking forward to more of the green jacket part of it than tying Jack in that regard,” Woods said. “Jack has had an amazing career and he has won a bunch of tournaments, but he’s won more majors than anybody else, either.
“I’m looking forward to my opportunities this year. There’s four of them this year and hopefully I can peak at the right times for all four of them.”
That major win drought is the one fans beyond the golf realm are especially waiting for Woods to end. Woods has not won a major since limping through a 2008 US Open playoff victory over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines.
If Woods does not win next week’s Masters, that will give him a four-year major title drought heading to the US Open in June at San Francisco.
And even Woods admits that he still has work to do even after the “pure joy” of his Bay Hill triumph.
“I was able to hit some really good shots and that’s a very good sign going into Augusta,” Woods said. “I still need some work.”
“I’ve been making steps in the right direction. It just had not shown up for all four days yet. And I’ve been so close to putting it together. It was just a matter of staying the course and staying patient.”
Mickelson is happy to have Woods back in top form entering the Masters.
“It’s good to see him back and playing well,” Mickelson said. “He is always the first name you look at on the leaderboard to see how he’s doing.”
Defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel would not even mind playing alongside Woods, even with the extra gallery distractions it would bring.
“Things like that you dream of,” he said. “To see him come back this year, he’s playing a lot better. We all can see that. It’s good for the game and it’s good for us. It can only be beneficial, if you are up for the challenge.”
One player who is up for the test is McIlroy, although he realizes there is a bit of home-course advantage for multiple Masters winners.
“Going back to a place where you have got great memories always helps,” said McIlroy. “Tiger has won the thing four times. Phil has got three, going for four…. Those guys are head and shoulders above everybody else basically.”