Is Tiger out of the woods?

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IOL pic dec5 golf tiger woods chevron Reuters American Tiger Woods tees off.

Augusta - After winning the Bay Hill Invitational last month, Tiger Woods goes into this week's Masters tournament as the favourite.

His victory in Florida not only saw him end a PGA drought of 923 days and 27 tournaments, it also - probably more importantly - gave him the belief that he could win again.

Bookmakers were quick to make him the favourite for the Masters, which is somewhat of a surprise given a whole host of golfers who have a good chance of winning the most important green jacket in the golfing world.

Players like Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose all go into Thursday's first round at the Augusta Country Club having secured victories on the PGA Tour this year.

Woods' role as favourite stems from the fact that he has, in the past, dominated the field at the Masters and won the tournament four times - second only to Jack Nicklaus.

However, his dominance was at the start of the century when he won three out of five tournament from 2001 to 2005.

Woods, who was asked after winning the Bay Hill whether he considered himself as the favourite for the Masters, said a lot of work remained.

However, he said he had hopes for the Masters. “I'm looking for one week, that's all,” he said. “Just hopefully, everything comes together for that one week.”

Even if Woods is the favourite, he is not the top-ranked American going into the competition. That honour belongs to Mahan, who is the only golfer on the PGA Tour to have won twice this year.

Mahon won the Shell Houston Open tournament, which finished Sunday, and, if he is able to take his form with him, could well be among the top challengers come Sunday's final round.

McIlroy, who earlier in the year became the second-youngest player in the world behind Woods to lead the golf rankings, still has a thing to prove at the Masters.

Last year, the Irishman had a four-shot lead going into the final round but finished 10 shots behind South African Charl Schwartzel, who became the third golfer from his country to win in Augusta.

Quite remarkably, McIlroy bounced back at the US Open to win his first major and was expected to again be a strong contender in the south-eastern US state of Georgia this time around.

Another Briton who could challenge for the title is Justin Rose, who has previously led the tournament. Rose is one of the best players in the world who has not yet won a major, and his victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March showed he is on fire.

Completing a strong British trio is world number one Luke Donald, who last year jinxed his chances of winning by finishing first in the par-three competition played in Augusta a day before the start.

Nobody has ever gone on to win the Masters in the same year, and Donald, who is considered the best short-game player around, would probably be less keen to do well at the par-three this time around.

Schwartzel, who has struggled to reach similar hights after his surprise victory last year when he won as a 40-1 outsider, has already suffered a defeat ahead of the start of this year's competition when tournament organisers turned down his request to be allowed to do his own cooking in the traditional Champions dinner.

None of the other recent surprise winners of the Masters - Angel Cabrera (2009), Trevor Immelman (2008) and Zach Johnson (2007) - have managed to repeat their triumph a year later. - Sapa-dpa


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