Tiger Woods, a four-time Masters champion, is seeking to win a major tournament for the first time since 2008. The Masters starts Thursday in Augusta, Ga.
Tiger Woods in a green jacket once felt like an annual celebration of spring, as regular as the azaleas bursting with color at Augusta National.
Now it is more like a fading memory.
It has been eight years since Woods rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt to win the Masters in a playoff for his fourth green jacket. He appeared to be well on his way to living up to the audacious prediction made by Jack Nicklaus, who played a practice round at Augusta with Woods — then a 19-year-old amateur — and Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus came away so impressed he considered his six Masters and the four won by Palmer and said, “This kid should win more than that.”
But the major Woods was supposed to dominate has become the major he can’t seem to win anymore.
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“It has been one of those things where I’ve been close there so many times on that back nine on Sunday, and I just haven’t won,” said Woods, 37. “I’ve been in the mix. Been on the periphery and played myself into the mix. I’ve been right there with just a few holes to go, and it just hasn’t happened.”
This might be Woods’ best chance to end the drought — not only at the Masters, but in major tournaments. His last victory in one was the 2008 U.S. Open. He has 14 major titles, second to Nicklaus’ 18.
Woods is healthier than he has been in years and seems to be happy. After a scandal that ruined his marriage and his image, he announced last month he is dating Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn. He is winning again at a spectacular rate — six of his last 20 on the PGA Tour, including consecutive victories heading into the Masters. And he is back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Also back is Woods’ swagger.
“Everyone is waiting for the first major. I don’t know why they’re waiting for that,” Hunter Mahan said. “I think he’s done enough this year to realize that he’s still really good and he’s still better than everyone else. He set the bar so high, I don’t know what is going to make everyone go, ‘He’s back to that time.’ It seems hard to be intimidating in golf, but I think he’s the closest thing to it.”
All Woods needs is another green jacket.
He has worn the jacket for the Champions Dinner since last winning in 2005, and as defending champion at the trophy presentation a year later. Woods had six three-putts in 2006, twice missing eagle chances inside 15 feet on the back nine of the final round, and finished tied for third — three shots behind winner Phil Mickelson. Those close to Woods suspect he was simply trying too hard, knowing it would be the last time his father watched the Masters. Earl Woods died a month later.
“Just really wanted to have him be a part of one last major-championship victory and I didn’t get it done,” Woods said. “It hurt quite a bit. … There’s never been another defeat that has felt like that.”
But losses kept piling up.
“Why has Tiger not won there in eight years? I don’t know,” Graeme McDowell said. “I guess the style in which guys play nowadays, guys are long and aggressive, and it’s not like Tiger back in ’97 when he dominated people with his length. He was playing a completely different golf course from everyone else. I think there are so many guys now who can decimate a golf course like that when it’s playing benign.”
Woods typically is viewed as the man to beat, and that hasn’t changed.
Other aspects of the Masters are different.
Along with speculating who will win a green jacket, there figures to be plenty of buzz about who is already wearing one — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore. In August, the club invited its first two women to join.
There has never been an age discrepancy as wide as this one among newcomers — 46-year-old Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand and 14-year-old Guan Tianlang of China. Guan won the 2012 Asia Pacific Amateur.
“It’s frightening to think that he was born after I won my first Masters,” Woods said.