AUGUSTA – Tiger Woods’ odds of winning the Masters have shrunk with every birdie of his 2018 comeback campaign, but in reality, the 42-year-old superstar faces a daunting task in his bid to add a 15th major title to his resume a decade after his last Grand Slam victory.
Since his 2008 US Open triumph at Torrey Pines took his tally of major titles to 14, injuries and well-publicised personal woes have taken a toll, raising doubts that he would ever surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.
Woods won Masters titles in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005, but his last top-10 finish at Augusta National was a tie for fourth in 2013.
Woods says he missed the “rush” of competing for a Green Jacket as back trouble sidelined him in 2016 and 2017.
Now playing without pain after spinal fusion surgery last April, Woods is relishing a return to the storied Georgia course.
“Just being out there on those greens, hitting putts and being creative, there’s no other golf course like it in the world and there’s no other golf tournament like it,” Woods said. “It’s a player’s heaven.”
Woods won his first Masters title in 1997 in historic style. His 18-under total put him 12 shots ahead of runner-up Tom Kite, and made him the youngest player and first African-American to win the Masters.
It was a great two weeks of being in contention again. I feel like I'm getting a little better. Great playing by Rory today to win at the King's place. Arnie would have been proud of golf today and the charges!!!
Another dominant win in 2001 gave Woods the “Tiger Slam” – making him the first golfer to hold all four of golf’s major titles simultaneously.
He successfully defended his Masters title in 2002, and in 2005 won in dramatic style – his birdie chip at the 16th on Sunday clinging to the lip before dropping to help him force a playoff in which he beat Chris DiMarco.
In 2010, Woods chose the Masters for his return to action five months after humiliating revelations of infidelity that eventually spelled the end of his marriage.
After scandal and injury saw his ranking tumble, Woods returned to number one in 2013, but another major title has eluded him and the longer the gap between Grand Slams the less likely another appears.
Four players have won a major title 11 years on from a Grand Slam victory, most recently Ben Crenshaw when he added the 1995 Masters to his 1984 triumph at Augusta.
Two players have claimed major wins 10 years apart – most recently Ernie Els at the 2002 and 2012 British Opens.
Woods is trying to match that feat after months in which he needed help just to get out of bed.
When he finally opted for spinal fusion surgery, it wasn’t with the aim of resuming his golf career, but in a desperate bid to “get away from this pain”.
Now, with a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship and a tie for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods finds himself touted as a favourite for a fifth Green Jacket.
The sight of Woods, clad in trademark red and black, contending for a title on Sunday has electrified galleries and boosted television audiences.
Amid the hype his odds to win the Masters have dropped to 9-1 – lower than those for world number one Dustin Johnson, Arnold Palmer Invitational winner Rory McIlroy and WGC-Match Play winner Bubba Watson – himself a two-time Masters champion.
Woods himself, however, insists he’s a work in progress.
“I still feel like I’m coming back, I’m still getting used to what my body can do, shots I’m hitting and playing, competing again,” he said.
“It feels good to be back out there.”