As much as Tiger Woods yearns to win golf tournaments, he also has a patient side, one that tells him that his goals are still in reach at age 37.
“It took Jack [Nicklaus] a while to get to 18 [major championships], all the way until he was 46 years old,” Woods said Tuesday during a news conference at Augusta National Golf Club. “So there’s plenty of opportunities for me.”
Woods, stuck on 14 since the 2008 U.S. Open, could have roughly three dozen chances to reach Nicklaus’ record between now and when he turns 46. The first of those will be Thursday when he starts his 19th Masters Tournament.
Woods will stride to the first tee at Augusta as the No. 1-ranked player in the world for the first time since the 2010 tournament. He has won six times in 13 months, and the swing changes he has made with coach Sean Foley appear to be paying off.
Foley doesn’t consult with Woods on putting, but he is putting as well as ever, which is how he struck daggers in the hopes of contenders before 2010.
Woods won in his first professional start at Augusta and claimed four green jackets in nine years. However, he’s gone winless in the Masters since 2005.
If he’d been told after that Masters that he would still not have a fifth victory in seven attempts, “I wouldn’t have been happy with that,” Woods said Tuesday. “I’ve been in the mix, but I haven’t gotten it done.”
Despite personal problems, injuries and swing changes, Woods still found a way to contend at Augusta while he was floundering almost everywhere else. He has finished sixth or higher in six of the seven years since his last victory, including three top-three finishes.
Last year’s tie for 40th was his worst finish in the Masters as a pro. Given his performance the past two seasons on the PGA Tour, that seems an aberration.
Woods seems as confident in the run-up to the Masters as any time since he last won.
“I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game,” he said. “I feel I’ve improved and I’ve got more consistent, and I think the wins show that.”
Woods also seems to have that old intimidation back. In his six victories since the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational, he has a final-round scoring average of 69. His playing partners in those events have averaged 75.
“You can’t put anything past him,” said defending Masters champion Bubba Watson. “He’s proven [it] to everyone, time and time again. Everybody said he’s in a slump. I wish I was in a slump like him. He’s playing the best. He’s No. 1 in the world.”
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson said Woods’ play reminds him of the Tiger of old.
“Now that he’s doing it and winning tournaments in such a [dominating] fashion," he said, "it does have the feel of what we expect to see from Tiger."