COMMENTARY | A major championship is always a rigorous examination. Over the course of four days the field is required to answer a series of challenging questions.
Tiger Woods is in a unique position, however. When the Masters gets under way, he will find himself dealing with a series of questions that only he himself can answer.
Is His Driver Still Reliable?
Time was when accuracy didn't matter very much at Augusta National Golf Club because there was no rough. Since rough was added in 1999, it's become more important to keep the tee ball in the fairway.
For all he has accomplished over the last year, the driver has been the most problematic club in Tiger's bag. As of this writing, he stands 145th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy. If he's going win his fifth Masters, he'll have to do better than that.
Does His Putter Still Make Magic?
If Woods is to be a serious contender, he'll have to do well on the greens. That means taking advantage of birdie opportunities on the par-5s but, more important, sinking putts in the 4-6 foot range. Woods will be a much more aggressive putter from long range if he's confident in his ability to sink a par putt, whatever the distance.
Does He Still Wear a 'Cloak of Invincibility'?
A decade ago, Woods could beat over half the field at any tournament merely by showing up. There was an aura about him that his foes found all but impossible to penetrate, and his physical skills took care of the rest.
Much of that aura is gone in the wake of Woods' off-course difficulties and the injuries he's suffered in recent years. When he's at his best, he's the best player in the world. But his peers/opponents aren't in awe of him as much as they once were. They're more apt to take on the challenge of confronting him as opposed to shying away from the challenge.
Can He Still Meet the Challenge of the Moment?
This may the most difficult question to answer. Woods has always done his best work from the front of the pack. How will he fare if he has a one- or two-shot lead Sunday with nine holes to play? For much of his career, it was assumed his challengers would fold and Woods would go on to victory.
That's no longer the case.
Is He The Best Who Ever Was?
Is Tiger Woods the best who has ever played the game? Jack Nicklaus has an 18-14 edge in major championships, but a case could be made that Woods has a more well-rounded short game and is competing against deeper fields than Nicklaus did in his prime.
Let me make my position clear: I still regard Jack Nicklaus as the greatest player in history, and in any case, comparing athletes from different eras is risky business. A win at Augusta would not indicate Woods has surpassed Nicklaus in a listing of the greatest players of all time. It would, however, add legitimacy to the discussion.
But that's a subject for another day.
Rick Woelfel is based near Philadelphia. He's a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and has covered the sport for more than 25 years.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods
- Augusta National Golf Club