MASTERS PREVIEW: Tiger must wake up and smell the azaleas: he'll need his driver to win a fifth Green Jacket this week
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Despite blowing away the opposition during his three wins this season, Woods has generally kept his driver in the bag where possible, and with good reason. Tiger ranks way down in 147th spot on the PGA Tour for driving accuracy this year, and has had to rely on his near-peerless shotmaking powers to recover from all sorts of bother – witness his stunning par save from water at the Honda Classic in March.
Whoever wins this week will need to shape his driver from right to left round Augusta's famous doglegs, and that opens the door for the world's best with the long stick – the likes of Westwood, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Louis Oosthuizen and Dustin Johnson.
It also favours the left-handers, who are able to hit less risky fades off the tee – and explains why Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have won in the last 10 years since the course was lengthened in the wake of Tiger's mauling in 1997. Expect three-time winner Mickelson and defending champion Watson to be in the mix down the stretch on Sunday once again.
It is often said that short-game expertise is the key to taming Augusta's notoriously tricky greens. But, while the winner will be no slouch with the wedge or putter, it is a power game that tames Bobby Jones' design these days.
Painful memories: Rory McIlroy has had two meltdowns in the last two years at Augusta
And there's one other chap who's pretty handy with a driver too. Rory McIlroy often looks like a kid in a candy shop at Augusta – make that a kid in a pro shop with his visit for souveneirs on Tuesday – and with good reason. On form, there's no better driver in all of golf than the world No 2. This course is made for him. He is destined to win here one day.
Augusta's champions since Tiger's last triumph:
2012 Bubba Watson
2011 Charl Schwartzel
2010 Phil Mickelson
2009 ngel Cabrera
2008 Trevor Immelman
2007 Zach Johnson
2006 Phil Mickelson
But will this be his year Not if he plays like he has for most of the time since his controversial switch to Nike clubs. He'll have to stay on the course for the entire four days for starters, which he spectacularly failed to do at the Honda Classic, where he stormed off the course blaming his state of mind and then toothache.
The words 'McIlroy' and 'meltdown' sit together uncomfortably easily at Augusta too, after his final-round implosion in 2011 (remember that tee shot on 10 Not many golfers are synonymous with a cabin off a fairway, but he is), and again last year, when the Ulsterman and Sergio Garcia embraced on the 12th green after a third-round horror show.
But McIlroy's 11th hour decision to play in Texas last week led to a much-needed second-place finish and a huge boost to his confidence. Rory has a habit of turning his fortunes round quickly and on the grandest of stages – his two major wins have come immediately after periods of poor form and/or traumatic on-course experiences. So why not again here this week
England awaits: Justin Rose (left), Ian Poulter (right) and Lee Westwood (below) all have a good chance
McIlroy or anyone hailing from these shores will be battling history. 2013 marks 25 years since Sandy Lyle became the first UK golfer to win at Augusta but there has been no winner from these isles since Nick Faldo's comeback of all comebacks over Greg Norman in 1996.
Northern Irish players have taken the title at four of the last 11 majors, and McIlroy again looks most likely to triumph from the home nations.
No Tiger, no great champions
The list of Major winners since Woods won his 14th and last major at the 2008 US Open divides opinion.
Some have heralded a great and unpredictable period full of brilliant golfers, while others have suggested none have the class of Woods.
2012 Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els Rory McIlroy
2011 Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley
2010 Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer
2009 Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, YE Yang
2008 Padraig Harrington (x2)
But Rose is in the form of his life, has a good record at Augusta and proved he can do it on the biggest stage of all when beating Mickelson at the Ryder Cup last year. Westwood is always in the mix here come Sunday, Ian Poulter reserves his best golf for when he can grab the most attention, and Graeme McDowell always seems to contend at majors these days.
So there is more than a little hope that the long wait will finally end this year. Just so long as none of them wins the traditional Par-Three Tournament on Wednesday. No-one has ever triumphed in that and gone on to win a Green Jacket four days later, as Luke Donald found to his cost two years ago.
Arguably though, the par threes are the least important holes at Augusta. The champion will have to take apart the par-fives – Watson went -8 on these holes last year – while the par-fours will separate the men from the boys (and that probably includes 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, the extraordinary Chinese who will become the youngest Masters competitor ever on Thursday, but whose tee shots will probably prove too short at 250 yards to compete.)
The two-shotters at the Cathedral of Pines ranked the second hardest of all courses on the PGA Tour last year, and collectively played at an average score of 0.2 strokes over par.
Dangermen: Keegan Bradley (above) and Phil Mickelson both boast power games that can tame the course
Shooting a number
3 – Number of players who have successfully defended their Masters title (Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods)
0 – Number of Australians who have won The Masters
63 – The course record for a single round, held by Nick Price and Greg Norman.
270 – Lowest winning score in history, shot by Tiger Woods, aged 21, in 1997.
23 – Number of holes-in-one at the Masters.
If the wind picks up, as is forecast for Thursday and Friday, more than a few of the favourites will be blown off course. But the sun is set to shine over the weekend, which usually means low scoring, roars echoing around the trees, and what is often the most nerve-shredding, adrenaline-rushing Sunday at any golf tournament in the world.
The good weather in Georgia this Spring has also provided a much-needed boost for those of us suffering in the chill winds this side of the pond. After last year's early bloom, August's galaxy of flowers have exploded into colour in perfect time for this year's Masters.
Woods will need to wake up and smell the azaleas: he needs his driver to win here this week.
THE 77TH MASTERS TOURNAMENT
Course: Augusta National Golf Club, par 72, 7435 yards.
Defending champion: Bubba Watson.
TV: All four days on Sky Sports. Par-three contest from 7.00pm on Wednesday.
COverage of rounds one, two and three start at 7pm, round four from 6pm on Sunday.
Day one and two highlights on BBC, plus round three from 8.30pm and round four from 7pm.
Bookies’ favourite: Tiger Woods.
Three to watch
RORY MCILROY – You bet he's the one to watch. This course is made for the Northern Irishman, but has he found his form again after a horrible start to 2013 And, perhaps even more importantly, has he got over his two meltdowns in the last two years at Augusta
ADAM SCOTT – Recent history suggests great drivers do well at Augusta, and there's few to rival the big Aussie with the big dog. Went close in 2011, went even closer at Lytham last summer… it's only a matter of time before he nails a major.
LEE WESTWOOD – His last three visits have yielded finishes of second (2010), 11th (2011) and and third (2012). Has improved on his short game in Florida this year, which could make the difference in his final major before he turns 40.
MATT KUCHAR – Boasts a game that rarely breaks down and a Cheshire Cat smile whatever happens on the course. Has also developed a taste for winning big in the last year, as his PLAYERS and WGC-Accenture Match Play title prove. The American revival is gathering momentum after the Ryder Cup – watch out, Europe.
In bloom: Augusta National is looking its best ahead of the 77th edition of The Masters
MASTERS GROUPINGS AND TEE-TIMES (BST)
1:00pm S Lyle (Sco), J Peterson (USA), N Smith (USA)
1:11pm L Mize (USA), B Gay (USA), R Henley (USA)
1:22pm I Woosnam (Wal), D Lynn (Eng), K Na (USA)
1:33pm D Toms (USA), R Sterne (Rsa), T Potter Jr (USA)
1:44pm T Watson (USA), R Moore (USA), K Streelman (USA)
1:55pm R Garrigus (USA), C Pettersson (Swe), T Clark (Rsa)
2:06pm M Weir (Can), L Westwood (Eng), J Furyk (USA)
2:17pm B Snedeker (USA), R Ishikawa (Jpn), J Rose (Eng)
2:28pm J Olazabal (Esp), M Leishman (Aus), T Vogel (USA)
2:39pm C Schwartzel (Rsa), W Simpson (USA), P Hanson (Swe)
2:50pm Z Johnson (USA), KJ Choi (Kor), G McDowell (NIr)
3:12pm M Thompson (USA), J Huh (USA), J Senden (Aus)
3:23pm S Cink (USA), N Colsaerts (Bel), T Wiratchant (Tha)
3:34pm B Watson (USA), I Poulter (Eng), S Fox (USA)
3:45pm T Woods (USA), L Donald (Eng), S Piercy (USA)
3:56pm J. Day (Aus), R Fowler (USA), P Harrington (Irl)
4:07pm J Merrick (USA), T Olesen (Den), DA Points (USA)
4:18pm C Stadler (USA), B Curtis (USA), M Weaver (USA)
4:29pm M O'Meara (USA), M Laird (Sco), J Donaldson (Wal)
4:40pm P Lawrie (Sco), T Bjorn (Den), G Fernandez-Castano (Esp)
4:51pm T Immelman (Rsa), G Coetzee (Rsa), A Dunbar (NIr)
5:13pm E Els (Rsa), S Stricker (USA), N Watney (USA)
5:24pm B Crenshaw (USA), M Manassero (Ita), T Guan (Chn)
5:35pm B Langer (Ger), L Glover (USA), H Stenson (Swe)
5:46pm V Singh (Fij), B Van Pelt (USA), YE Yang (Kor)
5:57pm A Cabrera (Arg), S Garcia (Esp), A Scott (Aus)
6:08pm F Couples (USA), D Johnson (USA), B Grace (Rsa)
6:19pm H Mahan (USA), H Fujita (Jpn), F Molinari (Ita)
6:30pm P Mickelson (USA), L Oosthuizen (Rsa), M Kaymer (Ger)
6:41pm R McIlroy (Nir), K Bradley (USA), F Jacobson (Swe)
6:52pm J Dufner (USA), M Kuchar (USA), B Haas (USA)