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“The No. 1 concern was first of all, get health, get strong enough where I can practice,” he said. “And once I started to be able to practice, things turned. And they turned quickly. I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game. I feel that I’ve improved, and I’ve gotten 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.”

The wins are piling up, and they are impressive.

He led by as many as eight shots on the back nine at Torrey Pines. He was never seriously challenged over the final hour at Doral and Bay Hill, two more wins that marked the first time in 10 years he’s had three wins in a season coming into the Masters.

But he’s got plenty of competition:

_ Mickelson came within a fraction of an inch from shooting 59 this year when he won the Phoenix Open, and while he’s a bit nervous about not playing the week before the Masters as he usually does, he can contend at Augusta even when he’s not on form. A win this year would give him as many green jackets as Woods.

_ McIlroy, the golfer Woods supplanted at the top of the world rankings, is getting his game together at the right time, finishing second last week in the Texas Open.

_ Watson knows only three golfers have won back-to-back Masters, but his power and creativity (who can forget that dazzling shot off the pine needles in last year’s playoff with Louis Oosthuizen) make him a threat to claim another green jacket.

Plus, there are plenty of talented golfers who have never won a major championship, from Luke Donald to Lee Westwood to Adam Scott. Surely, one of them is going to break through one of these days.

But everyone concedes that Woods is the man to beat.

Seems like old times, doesn’t it?

“He’s played very, very well this spring,” Nicklaus said. “If he wins here, I think it would be a very large step toward regaining the confidence.”

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