Woods has another slump to exorcise | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Woods has another slump to exorcise

Steve Yingling

Tiger Woods terminated “The Slump” by winning the past two PGA tournament he’s entered, right? But as Tiger goes into this week’s Masters, he may hear that annoying five-letter word as early as Sunday if he doesn’t win.

After all, the 25-year-old Woods hasn’t won the Masters since 1997. Isn’t that a slump? Didn’t that first green jacket fit Woods as well as the 6,985-yard layout at Augusta National?

His length and soft touch around the greens have led some – Jack Nicklaus included – to predict that Tiger could reach double figures in Masters wins before he’s done.

Since embarrassing the field for a 12-shot win in 1997 for his first major title, Woods has watched as Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara and Vijay Singh have worn the past three green jackets. None of them are Golf Hall-of-Fame potential, and combined they equal Woods’ five major titles.

An indifferent wedge game and inconsistent putting have kept Tiger from winning again at Augusta, and he may find it tough again this week with Singh, Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson all playing well.

Woods overpowered the course when he won with a record 18-under-par 270 four years ago. But since then, Tiger has reworked his swing more than Joan Collins has arranged her face. As a result, Tiger has become a better all-around player, but can he dominate again at Augusta like he did in 1997 when he played more recklessly and got hot for a weekend?

Recent history says no, but as we have seen before, Tiger has done the unthinkable time after time.

“The Masters Slump” has obviously been on Tiger’s mind, because he was caught practicing for Augusta-type shots prior to the final round of the Players Championship March 25.

This is the course that suits Woods’ game more than any other venue. There is plenty of room for error and Woods can take advantage of his length a little more than at some of the other tour stops.

”My practice sessions this week have been pretty good,” Woods told the Associated Press after winning the Players Championship on March 26. ”My short game … I’m pretty happy with it. I’m headed in the right direction, no doubt about that. It’s nice to see a lot of hard work paying off.”

Besides ending his unexpected dry spell at Augusta, Tiger has added incentive this week. By winning the Masters, Tiger would become the first player in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once. You think he doesn’t want that distinction?

Especially since past-and-present players are disputing whether it qualifies as a Grand Slam since the titles wouldn’t all fall within the same calendar year.

”It’s like a straight flush vs. a royal flush, ” commented Brad Faxon to AP.

Tiger is overdue to win the Masters. If you don’t think so, then just remember how Tiger has responded in the past when people begin to doubt him.

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With a lifetime exemption to play in the Masters, six-time champion Jack Nicklaus hasn’t taken up space in his 10 tournament appearances since turning 50.

Nicklaus has made the cut in nine of hid 10 past Masters. Don’t bet against the 61-year-old making it 10 of 11?

Has it really been 15 years since Nicklaus’ last win at Augusta?

* * *

Will this be the year that Mickelson or Colin Montgomerie wins their first major? Last year, Mickelson tied for seventh, eight shots back, while Monty tied for 19th.

* * *

Looking for a longshot to follow this week? Then Greg Puga is your man. Puga qualified for his first Masters by winning last year’s Mid-Amateur tournament.

When the 30-year-old’s dream ends on Friday or Sunday, he’ll return to his regular duties as a caddie at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.

It’s a story that has all the makings of a major motion picture. But actor Kevin Costner has been there and done that – Tin Cup.

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