Let's face it, trying to predict what Tiger Woods is going to do these days is nearly impossible. From years of winning a handful of tournaments and majors to perplexing seasons without a single win to his up-and-downs a season ago, with the ups being familiar events and downs being the majors, Tiger is as confusing as any athlete in the world.
And on Thursday, Tiger will once again start his PGA Tour season at Torrey Pines, the site of arguably his greatest moment as a professional golfer when he won the U.S. Open here in 2008. It's also the site of plenty of other successful victories, but what exactly are we supposed to think as the 37-year-old Woods enters 2013?
Here are some facts I think we can all agree on about Tiger this year:
-- He will win on the PGA Tour this year. How much? That isn't exactly as obvious, but I think anyone that paid attention to golf a season ago knows that Tiger is back to being in a certain form that allows him to produce victories at a pace that only someone like Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson can keep up with (and before you roll your eyes at Johnson's name, remember he already has a win this season and is the first golfer since Tiger to win at least one tournament in each of his first six seasons).
-- He will contend in major championships. Tiger is a talented player that knows what to do when he gets to places like Augusta National and Muirfield that separates him from the rest of the pack simply because of his preparation. He might not win a major, but he will definitely put himself in the mix a few times because that's how good he is.
-- He will be one of the top two or three players on tour by season's end. That's just a fact at this point. You can't doubt what Tiger is capable of even with the B-game that has seemed to become his norm these days.
Now those are all pretty broad predictions. Tiger will win, yes, but how much? Tiger will have a chance at majors, of course, but will he finally break his winless streak? Tiger is going to maybe or maybe not be player of the year and that depends more on the rest of the tour than it does on him.
My question on Woods' game still remains the same. I'm worried that the combination of a gun-shy golf swing that produces strikes like this and a field that isn't intimidated by him anymore will lead to a lot of years with one or two PGA Tour wins and nothing more. I see much of the same this year. I think Woods will win at Torrey or the Memorial or Bay Hill or Firestone and it's simply because he knows how to play those golf courses better than anyone else in the field and those tournaments aren't where the pressure gets to him.
It's the majors that continue to worry me. Tiger's golf game definitely improved from the start of the season to the end of it in 2012, but you can't look past the fact that Woods had a chance at both the U.S. Open and British Open and something happened over the weekends. It might be nerves, it might be doubt, it might just be that winning major championships is damn hard business, but whatever it was it never was a trait of Tiger's before and it is an obvious one now.
If Woods is going to win a major in 2013, I look at the British Open as his best chance. At the British you don't have to be the sharpest player to win, and you're allowed some brainless moments if you're talented enough to recover from them (Tiger is still the best on tour at hitting the tough golf shots. If you don't believe me I have Exhibit A and Exhibit B from last season).
Nobody is going to sit here and say that without a doubt this is how Tiger's season is going to go, but it is definitely interesting to watch how his golf game unfolds these days without the "get the lead and it's over" cheat sheet available.
All I know is that Tiger makes golf better in all ways, and no matter if he has a career year or falls flat on his face, when he's in a tournament we all keep our eyes glued to the television for a few more minutes.
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