If he's playing fairly well, he still might win. If he's playing just okay, he has a chance. The only way he definitely won't win is if he is playing below average, those once- or twice-a-year times when he goes out and nothing goes right. Those times he finishes 20th - in of a field of 144.
It's got to be a little encouraging to the rest of the field that Woods hasn't played that well yet this year. He won at Bay Hill when he wasn't at the top. At The Players Championship Woods was better, but still not up to Tiger's super standards.
The discouraging thing is that he said he has been aiming for this tournament all year. This is the week it is supposed to peak. And - it's beginning to get a little deeper into the season. Last year, two bad holes the first day probably cost him the championship. But as the year wore on, he just became unstoppable.
There's a suspicion - a very real feeling - that that is the way it is going this year. He overdid it in the off-season with a heavy emphasis on travel. There WAS a problem, Tiger finally admitted, even though he still didn't use the 'S' word - slump - even a Tiger slump.
'My problem is, I think I played too much at the end of last year,' he said.
'I played eight consecutive weeks, traveled more than 27,000 miles on four different continents, and that put a toll on my body.'
Woods was overwhelmed when he turned professional in 1996. He tried to be everything to everybody, and it just didn't work. He's learned that you have to risk looking like a jerk at times, but your body will thank you sincerely. Apparently, he still was trying to appease some people in November and December of last year.
'When I came out, I didn't feel as if I was appreciative enough,' said Tiger. 'I didn't take enough of a break. I came out and I wasn't, unfortunately, as energetic as I should have been.
'That's not to say I wasn't trying. I was really trying, trying to play. But when your energy level is not quite what it should be, sometimes it is a little more difficult. I think that is one of the lessons I've learned, but the problem is I had a lot of defending to do at the end of the year. It was kind of a catch-22 situation. But, I learned, and probably will make changes in the future towards that scheduling.'
In other words, Tiger won a lot of tournaments at the end of 1999 that he felt honor-bound to attend at the end of 2000. When the bell rang for the 2001 season, he just couldn't crack the whip in quite the same way. That won't happen in the future, be assured.
And it won't affect him at the Masters. Has he learned? 'Yeah. Yeah. Totally,' he said, and the message was clear to everyone who heard him that he won't make the same mistake.
Woods talks about being in that magical peak area in terms of certain holes, not certain tournaments. 'It comes in spurts,' he says. 'I'll play four, nine, 12 holes like I played last year, and I'll have kind of those off-holes. It's just not quite there, but it's good enough.'
Fortunately for him, the sterling play occurred several times in the big tournaments last year.
'I played really well at times last year, and a couple times just happened to be in the majors. But am I close to that? Yeah, I am pretty close, and hopefully everything will come together,' he said.
If it does, forget it. It could be another 12-shot blowout. If it doesn't, this one will probably be close. Tiger Woods, you see, holds the outcome in his hands.
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