Augusta favourite Woods eyes fifth green jacket
AUGUSTA, Georgia, Apr 5: One year after fending off countless questions about a major 'slump', Tiger Woods goes into this week's U S Masters as the overwhelming favourite to win the title for the fifth time.
Woods ended a barren run of 10 consecutive majors last April by beating fellow American Chris DiMarco in a playoff, vindicating the second revamp of his swing since he turned professional in 1996.
Three months later, he clinched his 10th career major in the British Open at St Andrews, capping four days of superb golf with a commanding five-stroke victory.
This week, the 30-year-old American launches his title defence at his 12th Masters having won three times in seven starts worldwide this year.
The only cloud on his horizon is the failing health of his beloved father Earl, who has been battling prostate cancer since 1998.
''Any time you get wins prior to Augusta, you're going to feel pretty good,'' Woods told a news conference yesterday after playing a practice round with friends Mark O'Meara and Mark Calcavecchia.
''I'm pretty excited at the start I've had this year. To get off to a positive start with three wins around the world is awfully nice.
''Last year, I had not tested my swing down the stretch in a major championship since I changed it under Hank Haney. I finally had to see what I could do with it.
''It worked, which gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the majors. I played pretty well in all three after that.'' Woods finished second at the U.S. Open, two strokes behind New Zealand's Michael Campbell, and tied for fourth at the U S PGA Championship, a month after wining the British Open for the second time at St Andrews.
Woods is ideally suited to the par-72 Augusta National layout which has been stretched to a formidable 7,445 yards for this year's tournament, making it the second longest course in major championship history. Six new tees have been added since he beat DiMarco at the first extra hole last April and the fairways on the first, seventh and 11th holes have been narrowed by the addition of trees.
Apart from the re-grassing of the seventh green, the slick and heavily contoured putting surfaces at Augusta are unchanged and still place a heavy premium on a precise short game.
Asked if he agreed with the course changes, Woods replied: ''Not necessarily.
''I didn't think you needed to mess with (hole number) four. I thought four was one of the cool holes as it was.
''I thought seven was a great risk/reward hole where you could hit driver, fairway wood or even iron off the tee, depending on what you felt you could do. It's laying totally different now.'' What is totally unchanged at Augusta is the requirement to putt well on the fast, sloping greens.
''You can have the golf course soft, hard, fast, whatever it may be, but you have to be able to make putts,'' Woods said.
''With the added length and as fast as this golf course is starting to get, you're going to have those eight, nine, 10-footers for par. And you've got to make those putts.'' Woods is scheduled to tee off at 1023 local time (1953 hrs IST) in Thursday's opening round in the company of Australia's Robert Allenby and 2005 U.S. amateur champion Edoardo Molinari of Italy.