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Let's rein in all this Tiger Woods hype

ESPN staff
March 27, 2012
Tiger Woods had a smile on his face with his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational © PA Photos
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The Tiger Woods bandwagon is on the move following victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Colin Montgomerie has claimed it is "ominous" for the major Europeans that Woods is hitting form two weeks away from the Masters, while Justin Rose has claimed he can see Woods "winning a major a year for the next five, six years, plus four other tournaments a year".

If all the hype is to be believed, the rest of the field may as well not bother turning up at Augusta and we can skip to Sunday to see defending champion Charl Schwartzel slip a fifth green jacket on Woods' shoulders.

Woods did look pretty good at Bay Hill. Aside from the odd duck-hook, Woods had the driver under control, his iron play was fabulous and he looked solid when standing over those eight-to-ten footers that have been his Achilles heel for the past couple of years.

But what we have to look at is the opposition Woods was facing. The highest-ranked player in the field was Rose, who sat at No. 8 coming into Bay Hill. While Woods was giving Graeme McDowell a lesson in how to defend a lead on the final day, world No. 1 Luke Donald was at home with his kids and Rory McIlroy was watching his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play tennis in Miami.

You could not fault the way Woods played, but there was no real pressure exerted on him over the course of the final 18 holes. Had McIlroy, Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer been in the field there is no way he would have had it all his own way.

Out of Bounds is not suggesting that Woods cannot win the Masters, but he does not strike fear into players like he did prior to 2009. It's not possible to fear a player who has shown over the past couple of years that he can regularly miss from inside eight feet.

He knows what it takes to win at Augusta and the track fits his eye, but the same can be said of McIlroy who was in a class of his own prior to his meltdown on the back nine 12 months ago. Donald has two top-ten finishes at the Masters and is a far stronger player mentally than in recent years, while Westwood is another well suited to Augusta.

When Woods was dominating golf in the years before and after the millennium, there was only Phil Mickelson capable of challenging him. That is now not the case. Golf has never been so strong, with a clutch of players capable of winning majors. We've mentioned the top four in the world, but throw in defending Masters champion Schwartzel, Steve Stricker, Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day and even Mickelson and you have a high-class field ready and capable of mixing it with Woods.

Golf needs Tiger firing on all cylinders, he excites like no other and puts bums on seats. A 15th major title could come his way next month, but he needs to prove his swing changes and putting stroke can cope in a field containing the best around.

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