At this point, it’s been almost five years since Tiger Woods won a major championship. During that time he’s mostly struggled personally and professionally, but so far in the 2013 season he’s shown, for the first time since 2009, a sustained reason to believe in his dominance again.
And golf needs a dominant Tiger Woods.
Individual sports are kind of difficult to understand. While, in team sports, the underdog is almost always the consensus favorite, that’s not so in individual competition. Rather, when the athletes are playing for themselves, only, we for some reason value dominance in a way we don’t in team sports. The reason people like Woods and Lance Armstrong had so far to fall is because they not only dominated their respective sports like no one before them, but because we held them in such high esteem for doing just that.
Unlike Armstrong’s indiscretions, however, Woods’ are far more forgivable (insofar as they’re of a personal nature, and don’t undermine his professional accomplishments), and golf is all but begging for him to return to form. With three wins early in the 2013 season, there’s reason to think that he has, but Woods’ comeback is still incomplete in the absence of a major title since the 2008 US Open.
At 10:45 a.m. on Thursday, Woods teed off in his quest to break that drought. Likewise, Woods needs to win his 15th major at Augusta, not only because he’s been achingly close almost every year since he last donned a green jacket in 2005. Moreover, Augusta was supposed to be Woods’ course of destiny, the place where Jack Nicklaus pronounced Woods would win 10 times over his career, where Woods began that major career winning by 12 strokes in what is still considered one of the all-time great individual performances in the history of sports.
Somehow, it just won’t be quite as sweet if Woods misses his opportunity in Georgia, but wins in June at Merion Golf Club or raises the Claret Jug at Muirfield in July.
It’s actually pretty incredible to look at what’s happened in golf since Woods last won at Augusta. Since that point, his rival, Phil Mickelson, has won twice on Alister MacKenzie‘s course. And only in 2012 did Woods finish worse than tied for sixth in the tournament, including two second-place finishes and a tie for third.
By all rights, Woods has had so many chances on the back nine on Sunday that he probably should have a couple more green jackets to his name. However, the fact that he’s been so close so often without winning would only make breaking his major drought at Augusta, specifically, that much more special.
But, all that being said, the changes that have been made at Augusta over the years may have taken away a big part of Woods’ advantage over the field. Augusta National used to be the kind of course that favored big hitters, and didn’t penalize wayward drives much. But nowadays, the course hasn’t only added length, but it’s done so strategically in a way that puts more emphasis on driving accuracy, which has never been Woods’ forte.
In general, Augusta is now a course that puts much more emphasis on accuracy, whereas traditionally its major protection was MacKenzie’s patented difficult greens and the emphasis on placing approach shots in specific areas of the greens.
Nonetheless, even if Augusta might not be quite as favorable to Woods, anymore, good luck convincing him of that fact. In his Wednesday press conference Woods noted many of the changes around the course, particularly length, but only broke them down in terms of shot selection, not biting on any questions about their relative difficulty.
But, ultimately, if Woods is playing at the top of his game, then the course doesn’t matter. Woods is capable of winning anywhere, at any time, when he’s focused, healthy and confident in his swing.
However, though Woods may be capable of winning anywhere, it would sure be something extra special if he managed to win this week, at Augusta National.