Tuesday 17 September 2019

Ready to kindle Masters flame

Tiger draws on fond memories from his happiest hunting ground

Tiger roll: The 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods will hope to use his Masters memories in his drive for five. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Tiger roll: The 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods will hope to use his Masters memories in his drive for five. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

They go together like peaches and cream or fish and chips until you stop for a moment as he holds court at the Masters and mentally calculate that it's been 11 years since his last Major win and 14 years since he captured his fourth green jacket.

Unlike the Dubs, his drive for five looks more like a faint hope than foregone conclusion despite efforts describe his victory walk up the 18th in the Tour Championship at East Lake last year as the start of the second coming.

As Rory McIlroy makes his fifth attempt at completing the career Grand Slam, claiming that he no longer has a "need to win a Masters", but merely "wants to", Woods has only a more vaunted place in golfing history to gain.

"I don't really need to win again," he said of the Masters before flashing a huge grin and adding: "I really want to."

Much has changed since 2005 when he made that outrageous chip on the 16th and went on to force a play-off with Chris DiMarco and captured that fourth jacket.

He didn't need that one either but there were occasions where nothing but a victory was acceptable and he pulled it off - the first Masters win in 1997 and the third that completed the Tiger Slam in 2001.

Events

"There were a couple of events over the course of my career Major championship‑wise I needed to win," he confessed.

"One, don't blow the lead I had in '97 because of what just happened the previous year. Greg (Norman) lost a six‑shot lead. I didn't want to lose a nine‑shot lead, so I was able to win that one. And then to win here in '01 to complete all four in a row, that's never been done. So I don't know how many more chances I'm ever going to get to do that again."

For all his success, Woods the competitor still craves that next big win and while he no longer possesses the raw power advantage that made him untouchable in 1997 and can no longer hone his putting with hours of backbreaking practice, he's still got that X-factor.

He draws confidence from the fact that he's contended in his last two Majors and won the Tour Championship wire-to-wire with this week's betting favourite, McIlroy, as a mere spectator in that final group.

"I feel like I can win," he said. " I've proven that I can do it and I put myself there with a chance to win the last two Major championships of the year last year.

"I was right there and just needed to have a couple more things to go my way and not throw away a couple of shots here and there, which I was able to do at East Lake."

He also loves the fact that he remains golf's biggest box-office draw, creating near levels of hysteria whenever he's in the mix.

What he craves as much as any green jacket is that frisson of excitement that comes with pulling off the impossible, such as that iconic chip-in from behind the 16th green in 2005 that prompted CBS's Verne Lundquist to proclaim, "In your LIFE, have you seen anything like that?!"

"I get a rush out of pulling off shots that sometimes I only dreamt about pulling off, and to see some of the reactions," he said. "I remember seeing the video later after I had holed that shot on 16 in 2005, and there was a gentleman in the back as you look at it from the camera, I think it was towards 15 green. I mean, he just slams his hat on the ground.

"That's fun. It's exciting to be part of situations like that, that people will look back on my career and say, 'I saw him pull this shot off.' Some of my best shots I've ever pulled off have been here. It's just a very special place."

Given all he's been through since his fall from grace and his injury problems, he faces a field of athletes that hit the ball harder and further than he ever did.

They will all be saying "I was there" if Woods wins this week. But while he has a lifetime of Masters memories to draw on, he misses that power advantage more than he can say.

Given the choice between superior length and experience, he has no doubts.

"Well, I would like to hit it 40, 50 yards past the longest guy out here and I'll figure it out from there," he said.

Somehow, you get the impression that he was playing to the opposition there.

McIlroy will get to see it all up close tomorrow when he plays in the group behind.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport