While the Masters is a tradition unlike any other, Tiger Woods is certainly a player unlike any other. When the two get together, there's always potential for something spectacular, especially when Woods is putting like he did in his prime.
As Woods prepares to tee off in the 77th Masters on Thursday, he is in excellent form. He has won his last two tournaments and three overall this season. The last time he arrived at Augusta with three PGA wins was 2008, coincidentally the last year he won a major.
"I'm very pleased that some of the shots that I struggled with last year are now strengths," Woods told reporters two weeks ago after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time. "My good ones are really good. Just making sure the bad ones aren't that bad."
While Woods still doesn't have his "A" game off the tee, ranking 147th in driving accuracy, he has suddenly regained his touch on the greens. He is the runaway leader in strokes gained putting (plus 1.48 per round). Even though this is a limited sample size after five events, Woods' figure is obscene considering that Ben Crane is the only player to exceed 1.0 strokes gained per round in a season since the metric came into use in 2004.
Never one for too much self-examination, Woods chalks up his surge to hard work. With more confidence in his full swing, Woods has spent more time sharpening his short game, he said. There also was a friendly tip from Steve Stricker, one of the best putters on the tour, who encouraged Woods to weaken his grip and move his hands forward at address.
"Just tried to get him set up in a better position where he could feel like he could accelerate down through the line a little bit," Stricker said of the advice, which he gave to Woods at Doral.
Since then, Woods has gone 2-0 and done it with less than his best stuff tee-to-green. The prospect of Woods solving his driving woes at Augusta is daunting for contenders, largely because they know Woods could win his fifth green jacket even with a balky driver.
Is this the start of Woods' second act as he resumes his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships? Back in the top spot in the world golf rankings, Tiger appears as ready as ever.
- Kevin Dunleavy