When we last saw Augusta National Golf Club, Tiger Woods was
wearing the green jacket and Superman's cape, and we were no
longer laughing hysterically at Jack Nicklaus's prediction that
Woods will win more Masters titles than he and Arnold Palmer
combined. (They have 10.) Woods's tournament-record score of 18
under par and his 12-shot margin of victory were so convincing
that if Nicklaus said that Woods will win the next 10 Masters,
we probably would nod in agreement.
Some players feel that way too. "What can you do?" says Tom
Lehman. "You can't just say, 'Oh, well, we're playing for
second,' but I like my chances in the Open a lot better than in
the Masters." Paul Stankowski, who tied for fifth last year at
the Masters, says, "To beat Tiger at Augusta when he has his A
game is going to be hard. A bad week for him may be eight under,
which is probably good enough to win most Masters."
Length can tame Augusta, and last year Woods was, on average, 25
yards longer than the field and never hit more than a seven-iron
to the par-4s. Toss in the fact that he was 22 under on the
final 63 holes, and it's easy to understand why everyone says he
will be the favorite at Augusta for years to come. Still, if you
are ready to pencil Woods in as a mortal lock next week, I offer
this advice: Don't.
In fact, there is no way he is going to win the Masters this
year. Call me crazy, but it's a safe bet. Consider what Davis
Love III says: "Tiger's good, but he can't win every year. Not
even Nicklaus did that...although he did win six." Or this
from Brad Faxon: "Last year was probably the best week Tiger's
ever had. If he's not on his game, he's not going to win." Faxon
might have also pointed out that Woods hasn't come close to that
level of play since.
The one club that could betray Woods is his putter. He didn't
three-putt once last year. A repeat of that performance is about
as likely as his serving fried chicken and collard greens at the
champions' dinner. Tour regulars will tell you that Woods is
only a B putter. Did you see him last month at Doral? Tee to
green, he was the best player in the tournament, but all week he
missed putts that a 10 handicapper could have made. The same
thing happened the week before in Los Angeles--six- and
eight-footers sliding left. If Woods putts like that at Augusta,
he'll be helping someone else slip on the green jacket come
It's also worth remembering that Woods hasn't won a PGA Tour
event since the Western Open nine months ago, that he fell off
the radar screen in the other majors and got his head handed to
him in the Ryder Cup. Sure, he beat Ernie Els in Thailand this
year with a dramatic closing charge (and a lackluster
final-round 73 from Els), but back home he has been in
contention on Sunday five times this season and has been beaten
by Phil Mickelson, Scott Simpson, Billy Mayfair, Michael Bradley
and Els. That's not a slump, but it's not indicative of a great
golfer on a roll, either.
Course management is another potential problem. To put it more
bluntly, Woods is too reckless. The Masters was the only major
in which he didn't post big numbers born of overconfidence. One
of the things that makes Woods so compelling is his willingness
to challenge a course, especially after he has hit one into the
boonies. Perhaps you have seen him in a tee box recently,
grimacing in disgust, one arm extended to the right? Bad lie,
green blocked by a tree, water left. Time to lay up? Hell, no.
Galleries love it, but this approach cost him dearly in the U.S.
and British Opens. Maybe he has learned from that. But maybe he
hasn't. In the tee box at 12 on Sunday, surveying that insidious
par-3 with Rae's Creek in front and the pin to the right, will
Woods go for the flag and risk a double bogey, or will he be
patient enough to take his par and do his scoring on the
Here's one last reason to doubt Woods's chances of repeating
history. In nearly two thirds of a century, only Nicklaus and
Nick Faldo have won consecutive Masters. Woods could be the
third, but don't engrave his name on the Masters trophy just
yet. One thing Greg Norman has taught us: History isn't written
until after it's made.
COLOR PHOTO: J.D. CUBAN [Tiger Woods]
At Doral, Woods missed putts all week that a 10 handicapper
could have made.