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The Road to the Masters Leads Through Tiger Woods

April 7th, 2008 · No Comments

2008 Masters Coverage – thru 4/15

Tiger Woods has played in 12 majors since his Hank Haney Swing started producing Ws in early 2005. Given that he’s finished in the top four in 10 of them, there is no reason to believe that he won’t be stalking the leaderboard on Masters Sunday.

Knowing that Tiger will be in the hunt will cause some players to vanish from contention long before the final 18. Unless we have a replay of 1997, however, some will manage to stay with Tiger going into the final holes, and one of those players might muster the guts to win like Zach Johnson did last year.

The road to the Green Jacket goes through Tiger Woods. If a player outscores Tiger, he’ll win or be darned close to the champion. Since Tiger’s the standard, I thought it would be interesting to see who has hung with Tiger over 72 holes in the last three Masters. If a player has matched Tiger shot-for-shot in the recent past, he might do it again.

The players below have finished within three shots of Tiger at one the last three Masters. In 2005 only Chris DiMarco managed to stay close, but he failed to qualify for this year’s edition.

I’ve made a comment on these players’ recent play. Those with a strong start to the 2008 season, particularly over the last month, are poised to give Tiger a run for the title. They are highlighted in Masters green.

2005 Masters
Tied with Tiger (for 72 holes)
Chris DiMarco — Not Playing

2006 Masters
2 Ahead of Tiger

Phil Mickelson — Four mediocre starts in a row, lost momentum after win in LA
1 Ahead of Tiger
Tim Clark — Horrible year, a 12t at WGC-CA is best of the bad
Tied Tiger
Retief Goosen — Poor year, but did manage a 2t at WGC-CA
Jose M. Olazabal — Injuries sadly make him a non-factor
Chad Campbell – 2t at the Shell-Houston – carry over affect?
Fred Couples — #229 WGR – 48 years old – 4t at the Shell-Houston
1 Back of Tiger
Angel Cabrera — Terrible season in stroke play events
Vijay Singh – Played great last 2 months, likely to contend,but can he win?

2 Back of Tiger
Stewart Cink — Having a fine season, but closing skills are lacking.
3 Back of Tiger
Miguel Jimenez — Consistently down the leaderboard
Stephen Ames — 15t at WGC-CA – poor play the last 11 weeks
Mike Weir — In the midst of a poor season

2007 Masters
2 Ahead of Tiger
Zach Johnson — 9t at the WGC-CA is his only full field top 20
Tied with Tiger
Retief Goosen – See above
Rory Sabbatini — No top 30s in last 10 weeks
1 Back of Tiger
Jerry Kelly — 2t at Puerto Rico, which opposed the WGC-CA is only top 30, last 10 weeks
Justin Rose – 3 top 15s in last 3 starts
2 Back of Tiger
Stuart Appleby — Play has been mediocre of late
Padraig Harrington — ’07 British Open champ is having a good year
3 Back of Tiger
David Toms — In the midst of a bad year

The Goose Could be the Man
Two time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen stands out among the crowd. He was a distant 3t at the 2005 Masters. Then, in 2006-07, he played even with Tiger both years. He finished 2t at the WGC-CA, one ahead of Woods three weeks ago, so the Goose is cooking.

No Masters within 3 Strokes of Woods in the Last 3 Years
Below is a list of quality names among the WGR Top 21 who must be taken into consideration even though they have failed to finish close to Tiger the last three years. Most are overdue for a strong showing at Augusta. Before each name is their WGR. After each name is their best finish at the Masters in the last three years. Next is their career best at Augusta. Finally, the lowdown on their play of late. The best prospects are in green.

3 Ernie Els (27t) Second in ‘00,’04. Won Honda 5 weeks ago. Recovering from virus.
4 Steve Stricker (MC) – Best a 10t. Playing great, but does game fit Augusta?
5 Geoff Ogilvy (16t) Only played in two. Golf’s hottest player. W, 2t last two starts.
6 K.J. Choi (27t) Third in ’04. Good but not great since W at Sony 13 weeks ago.
7 Jim Furyk (13t) Fourth twice, last in ’03. Poor season except 2t at WGC-CA.
8 Adam Scott (27t) A 9t in’02. Playing well, caught strep throat at Shell-Houston. ?
13 Henrik Stenson (17t) Only played in two. Two seconds on European Tour, third at Accenture.
15 Sergio Garcia (46) A 4t in ’04. 15t at WGC-CA best on PGA Tour. A big question mark.
16 Luke Donald (3t) 3t came in ’05. A second and 3t over last 8 weeks.
19 Zach Johnson (W) W in ’07. 9t at the WGC-CA only top 10 of ’08.
20 Aaron Baddeley (52t) Came in ’07. A 12t is his best in stroke play in ’08.
21 Andres Romero (DP) Masters Rookie. First PGA win two weeks ago.

The Field Against Woods – About a Fair Fight
The more I evaluated Tiger’s challengers, the more convinced I became that the bookies are on target with their 50/50 odds on Woods to win. Other than Tiger, this field is weak. Weak at the top, weak at the bottom, and weak at all points in between.

Pick any player. Tiger vs. You Name Him. As you go through the list, it is easy to check them off. No one inspires the least bit of confidence. No Palmer’s, no Player’s, no Watson’s inhabit this field – nobody that you can look at and say “Tiger’s great, but I like this guy’s chances.” In a way, golf is back to the future. Tiger entered into a great void in 1997 and took full advantage. Going forward the names have changed, but the game is the same. It’s Tiger’s World, and the rest just get rich off it.

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