TIGER WOODS last night had words of caution and praise for Pádraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, Ireland’s two big hopes for a serious challenge at the 73rd Masters at Augusta National.
Woods, who looked in peak condition after his nine-month injury lay-off followed by a magnificent victory in the recent Arnold Invitational at Bay Hill, is himself seeking a fourth green jacket although, remarkably, his first since 2005.
But he did admit that prior to his reappearance in the Accenture World Match Play Championship in February, he was quite uncertain about his future as the game’s greatest.
“I didn’t know how I was going to respond, how I was going to recover from day to day,” Woods said. “But the Match Play was a big turning point for me and my game started to come round at Doral. I was hitting the ball better and better, and I went out at Bay Hill and basically played.”
During his period of convalescence, Tiger was busy setting himself targets and is now openly candid about his prospects of pulling off the Grand Slam of all four majors in the same year.
“I know I can do it,” he said before asserting: “I’ve done it. It’s hard for me to sit here and tell you that it can’t be done, because I’ve done it before.”
Well, actually, he hasn’t — but he did hold each and every one between the US Open in 2000 through the Open and US PGA that year to the Masters in 2001.
“It’s just a case of doing it at the right time so hopefully it will start for me this week. The last couple of years, my putting has been streaky at Augusta. I get on rolls where I make everything and rolls where I don’t make anything. Consequently, I didn’t win the tournament.”
Prior to his knee surgery, Woods was a martyr for leading the “dawn patrol”, often starting practice rounds in near darkness to avoid the public glare. So far this week, though, he played late on Monday and not at all yesterday because of the cold, windy weather which he believes won’t be repeated during the tournament itself.
Woods appears to be mentally attuned to the demands of the Masters (“It is finally nice to hit the shots I was trying to hit and I can hit them now”) and even at odds of 2/1, there will be many prepared to invest in him.
In Ireland, though, the majority will place their faith loyally in Harrington. Does Woods think they would be wise to do so? “It’s not going to be easy for him,” he mused. “I remember trying to do it myself and it’s hard to peak four straight times. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. Having your game come together, playing well at the right time and on top of that, getting the right breaks. People don’t realise that just one gust of wind here or there makes for a shot you think couldn’t happen and yet it could cost you the tournament.
“You don’t look at it and say, I have to beat this one person to win the golf tournament, because there are a whole host of people that you have to beat. He’s going about it the right way. We all know he’s been a wonderful player. (It was) just a matter of Paddy winning his first Major, you knew that was going to happen. And lo and behold, he wins two last year. And he has the game to win more.”
As is invariably the case with young rookies, Rory McIlroy is trying to regard the Masters as if it was just another golf tournament. Woods, however, doesn’t believe this is entirely possible, no matter how single minded he might be.
“It is different,” he declared. “As much as you try and make it feel like another tournament, it is a little bit different, because it is your first major championship. It is an experience that you will always remember. It’s something that nobody can ever take away from you.
“Rory has been playing well and won in Dubai. He’s certainly got the game. He has the talent. It’s just a matter of gaining the experience of playing more big events. That will come over time. There’s no hurry, no rush. It’s just a matter of time before he starts winning a lot of golf tournaments.”
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