AUGUSTA, Ga. — The high standard Tiger Woods sets for himself at Augusta National Golf Club — nothing short of a victory — hasn’t been met since 2005. He seems primed to change that starting today with the first round of the 77th Masters Tournament.
The 37-year-old Woods is “not happy” he hasn’t won more green jackets.
He does have four of them in 18 starts — only Jack Nicklaus has more, with six.
Still, Woods is chasing history. He needs five more major championship victories to pass Nicklaus’ career record of 18. To go with his four Masters wins, Woods has four PGA Championships and three U.S. and British opens each.
In addition to his fallow period in the Masters, Woods has been in a major drought, too. His last one came nearly five years ago.
All signs point to Woods being there on the final nine Sunday with a chance to break the dry spells. He’s the only player to have won more than once on the PGA Tour this year (he has three victories) and his last win, three weeks ago, vaulted him back to world No. 1, a spot he hadn’t occupied since Oct. 30, 2010. Before last year’s Masters, he was ranked seventh and had just broken a two-year-plus victory drought. Since then, he’s won five times.
This also helps: Woods has his personal life in order, is healthy, has settled into his Sean Foley-taught swing and is putting like the Tiger Woods of old.
“He’s playing the best,” defending champion Bubba Watson said of Woods, his former dawn patrol practice-round playing partner. “He’s No. 1 in the world. If you’re No. 1 in the world, I think you should be the favorite. It would be kind of weird if he’s the underdog and he’s No. 1 in the world.”
“I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game,” Woods said. “I feel that I’ve improved and I’ve got more consistent, and I think the wins show that. That’s something that I’m proud of so far this year, and hopefully I can continue it this week and the rest of the year.”
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson said even when Woods wasn’t playing his best golf in 2010 and 2011, “You’re always looking at his score. You’re always worried about him making that big run the way he’s always done throughout his career.
“And now that he’s doing it and winning tournaments in such a dominating fashion, it does have the feel of what we expect to see from Tiger.”
With the exception of 2012 when he shot 72-75-72-74 and tied for 40th, Woods hasn’t been out of the top six in a Masters since his last victory.
“That’s the misleading part; it’s not like I’ve been out of there with no chance of winning this championship,” he said. “I’ve been there, and unfortunately just haven’t got it done. I’ve made runs to get myself in it. I’ve been there in the mix on the back nine, either not executed, not made enough putts or didn’t take care of the par 5s, or whatever it may be.”
Watson, whose world ranking has dropped from fourth when he won the Masters to 14th this week, hasn’t won a tournament since his victory at Augusta National.