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Punch Shot: How will Woods fare at the Masters?

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods is making his first competitive start since February at the Masters. He's also a four-time winner at Augusta National. How will he fare this week? The on-site team offers up their thoughts:


There will be no green jacket waiting on Sunday afternoon, no fifth Masters title, no 15th major championship for Tiger Woods, but that doesn’t mean it will be a lost week.

Regardless of how he played on Monday and Tuesday –surprisingly well, actually – the field this week at Augusta National is simply too deep.

He may be able to beat the odd Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson, but he can’t outplay all of them, not with the game that’s been on public display lately.

That’s not to say Woods will serve a ceremonial role this week. In 2010, after a five-month hiatus from the game, he tied for fourth at Augusta National, and in 19 starts at the year’s first major he’s missed the cut just once.

If he stays healthy, and that’s a big “if,” he will play 72 holes. He may even find himself somewhere on the leaderboard late on Sunday afternoon, but it’s hard to imagine the guy who couldn’t break 80 on Friday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open can conjure enough Masters magic to add to his green jacket collection.

He is Tiger Woods, however, and that means things are always interesting.


Tiger Woods looks better in his practice at Augusta National, on the course and on the range, than he did at the Hero World Challenge, the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Farmers Insurance Open.

Hearing Woods talk about the commitment he made to improve, all the hard work he put into fixing his chipping problems, leads you to believe he won’t endure the depth of struggle to get the ball in the hole that he did in his last three starts.

Still, you can’t help wondering how recently the fix kicked in, given he skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational three weeks ago. And you can’t help wondering how rusty he would be with all the time away from competition, even if he didn’t have the chipping issues. The nerves will be challenged Thursday a lot more than they were in practice rounds. Woods may be better, but it’s hard to fathom he’ll leap into contention with his fixes. Better may not even translate into making the cut. In fact, given the magnitude of his struggle and his time away, it will feel like a bonus if he simply gets to play the weekend of a PGA Tour event for the first time in nine months.


After Monday’s practice round I thought Tiger Woods could finish inside the top 25. After Tuesday’s practice round I thought he would miss the cut. Truth is, Woods only played 20 holes combined on those days and those performances won’t amount to a hill of beans once the first round starts.

That’s what makes this week so utterly fascinating – we have no clue what’s going to happen. But this is Tiger Woods, and this is the Masters, a place where he’s never missed the cut as a professional. Deep down my gut tells me he finds a way to hit enough good shots to play two more rounds on the weekend.

It seems silly to be excited about the prospect of Woods making the cut, or to think it’s an acceptable goal, but it’d be huge progress from where he was two months ago. Simply qualifying for the weekend wouldn’t make Woods happy one bit, but it would show the world that he did what he said he’d do, return only when he was tournament ready.


So, here’s the thing about Tiger Woods: I’m hoping he contends. I’m praying he contends. As a sportswriter and a fan of the sport, nothing would thrill me more than a rejuvenated Woods hitting breathtaking shots again and making Sunday at Augusta magical.

But … I can’t see it happening. In truth, I’d be surprised if Woods was even in the state of Georgia on Sunday. Yes, I know he looked good in a practice round. Yes, he seemed confident and revived in his news conference. Trouble is, professional golf – especially Masters golf – is still about putting a little white ball in a little hole under extreme duress.  You get no credit for history, no points for confidence, no referee looking the other way because you’re a legend who happened to travel.

Woods didn’t win four Masters because of his extraordinary mental toughness. He won four Masters because of his extraordinary mental toughness AND the fact that he hit the ball longer, higher and straighter than everyone else, and his touch was unmatched, and he never missed a putt that mattered. That Tiger Woods, I fear, is gone. He might reemerge for a day or two, here and there, he might pop up some week in Charlotte or Orlando. But the guy just spent two months trying to make his game good enough to be seen in public. I hope I’m the entirely wrong. But he’s not contending at the Masters.