- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - There was a time when Tiger Woods would have responded to the perceived slight in the way he knew best _ with his clubs. A 65 on Sunday, perhaps, good enough to slip on another green jacket while Ian Poulter waited at the airport for a flight home.

Getting even used to be easy when life was so much easier. A thrashing on the golf course usually took care of anyone who challenged the great one’s supremacy, lest they dare open their mouths again.

Could still happen, of course. Woods tees off Thursday hoping a retooled swing and his intimate knowledge of Augusta National could carry him to a fifth Masters title, and you can’t completely discount the possibility no matter how erratic he’s been.

More likely, though, is that Poulter was spot on when he said he didn’t see Woods finishing in the top five this week.

Best clue why? Woods himself says it’s true.

“Well, Poulter is always right, isn’t he?” Woods said.

Sure, the words were spoken sarcastically. But the fact they were spoken at all was telling.

The old Woods would have simply responded to the Englishman’s comments by narrowing his eyes or shaking his head. There was nothing to say when his clubs could say it all.

He dominated Augusta National just by his presence. There was never any need to check his tee time because you could hear it coming.

“He walked to the range and it was like a freight train arriving,” three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said.

For the first time in 12 years Woods is not the favorite to wear the green jacket that goes to the winner. Phil Mickelson is, and the wise guys in Vegas don’t even make it close.

At his peak, bettors could put down $20 to win $30 on Woods in the Masters. This week they can bet $10 and win $100, but even the prospect of a big payoff hasn’t lured them to put a lot of money on Woods.

“They’ve definitely figured out over the last year and, especially in this tournament, Tiger is obviously not on his game,” said Jay Kornegay, who runs the sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Woods‘ fellow players have figured that out, too, though they are careful to avoid looking as if they’re dancing on the carcass of the Tiger of old.

Some, like Mickelson, keep quiet, perhaps fearful that the Tiger of old might reappear and start snatching majors away from them. Asked Tuesday whether Woods‘ problems since his sex scandal erupted might keep him from winning five more majors to break the record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus, the normally loquacious Mickelson clammed up.

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