Woods continues to be favorite

Posted: Thursday, April 06, 2000

Tiger Woods dominated the Masters Tournament in 1997, setting records for lowest 72-hole score and margin of victory. So why hasn't he won at Augusta National Golf Club more than once?

The answer to that question might be fuzzy, but one thing is clear: Woods tees off today as the heavy favorite to win his second green jacket. Oddsmakers think highly of him, too, making him a 2-1 favorite.

Six-time winner Jack Nicklaus once said, albeit in jest, that Woods could win more Masters than he and Arnold Palmer combined (10). ``But I think it could probably come true,'' Nicklaus said on the eve of the tournament. ``There's only one Tiger Woods ... He's an amazing young man.''

But for Woods to triumph this week, he'll have to do the following: putt well, continue to dominate the par-5s, and play the front nine better. The main part of the answer can be found in Woods' bag: his putter. When he won in 1997, Woods didn't three-putt a single green. A year ago, he hit the most greens in regulation of anyone in the field. But his putter was cold that week, leaving him tied for 55th in putting. Hitting greens in regulation also factors into the putting statistics. As an amateur making his first appearance in 1995, Woods tied for 10th in putting. But he only hit 42 of 72 greens, ranking 43rd in that category.

Length hasn't been a factor, either. Woods has ranked no worse than second in driving distance in the four Masters he has finished. ``I think this one and the British Open are just set up so well for me,'' Woods said this week. ``I love playing here because you get a chance to use your imagination, creativity and use your short game. I thoroughly enjoy that.''

Woods must continue to dominate the par-5s at Augusta National. In 18 competitive rounds, Woods has played the four long holes a total of 35-under par. He's been particularly tough on the back nine par-5s, Nos. 13 and 15, playing each of those a cumulative 12-under par.

``This course favors the long high-ball hitter,'' said Greg Norman, naming Woods among those who have a Masters advantage. No. 2, which was lengthened by 25 yards before the 1999 tournament, has fallen victim to Woods' length. He's 8-under for his career on that hole. Only the par-5 eighth hole, at 3-under, has put up any resistance to Woods. That can be partly explained by a triple bogey Woods suffered on that hole in the first round of last year's Masters. Woods' main nemesis might be the front nine, in particular the par-4 holes on that side.

Even if you factor in his success on the two par-5s, Woods is still a cumulative 8-over par on the front nine. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 have given him the most problems, each playing 4-over par. Even when he won in '97, Woods shot a 40 on his first nine holes. He recovered to shoot 30 on the back nine for a 2-under 70, putting him on track to win.

Despite winning a Masters in his third attempt, Woods has been human in the eight competitive rounds since his historic win. He's shot 70 twice, 71 once, matched par-72 four times and shot a 75 in the final round last year. For all of his length and talent, Woods has not shot a round in the 60s since 1997.

Still, Woods is the player to beat this week. The other players know it, and Woods knows that they know it. Although Woods has dominated the PGA Tour this year, winning three times and finishing second three times in seven events, he has been beatable. Hal Sutton, Darren Clarke and Phil Mickelson are living proof.

Even David Duval, the world's top-ranked player before Woods took over that role, won't concede victory this week. ``I think right now people think any event he plays in is Tiger's event to win, which not too long ago, that was the case with me,'' said Duval, the Masters favorite a year ago. ``So I think this is my event to win or lose this week. Point being, it's not going to change, no matter what anybody else feels.''

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