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Masters a different test for flat-track bully Woods

ESPN staff
March 13, 2013
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It's nice to see Tiger Woods once again dominating events that he used to win for fun back in the day.

But it doesn't necessarily help us work out whether he is once again in position to win a major this year.

Memories of 1997 - and his three subsequent victories - give the instinctive impression of Woods as someone who dominates at Augusta National but, compared to places like Doral and Torrey Pines (where he has won this year), he has been positively unsuccessful at The Masters.

His win at the former PGA Tour stop on Sunday, in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, was his seventh on the Blue Monster of his career. Woods has now won five times on tour since the start of 2012 - of those the AT&T National, at Congressional Country Club, is the only one he hadn't previously won at least four times.

To some, that might suggest Woods is only winning at golf courses where he has always felt comfortable. To the man himself, the wins are evidence that he is becoming particularly competent on the tour's toughest layouts.

As Woods said on Sunday, after his latest triumph: "I look at the three venues that I won last year, were all three very good golf courses, and you know, I think winning at Torrey and then winning here, my five wins, I've been on some pretty tough tracks."

Woods was certainly imperious last week over the Blue Monster - a course that is not considered quite fearsome enough for new owner Donald Trump, who will blow it up and rebuild completely over the course of the next 12 years.

The 14-time major champion's putting and close-range iron play was particularly imperious - while his driving, still somewhat erratic, appeared more controlled than in months past. Woods currently ranks in the top ten on tour in something called 'left rough avoidance' - basically meaning that he almost never hits the ball left of the fairway.

While he still leaks too many shots right (over-cutting them - as he did in finding the top of tree during Saturday's round), the fact he never really over-draws the ball could prove a huge weapon at Augusta in just less than a month. Having rebuilt his swing in the last two years, Woods acknowledged that he feels he has finally transitioned from thinking about the mechanics of his new technique - to simply 'feeling' the shots he wants to hit.

"It's more not playing by position [of the swing], it's more by certain feels and what I need to do to create that type of trajectory," Woods revealed, in a rare insight into his current process. "That's a big change, because obviously I was where I was a few years ago to where I'm at now, it's a big change.

"And especially on the fly out there, to make the adjustments that I need to make, where if I don't quite hit one just right, I know exactly what to go to to fix it, and that's always the biggest thing is that I didn't really understand sometimes. But understanding now, certainly helps."

The majors are a different challenge, however - as Woods himself showed last year, as he threw away countless impressive starts to tournaments as the increased pressure of weekends at a major took a heavy toll on his mechanics.

This year neither of his wins have come in close finishes - and yet, at Doral, Woods still rather limped across the line with two bogeys in his final three holes. He is unlikely to be afforded such a luxury in majors.

"Any time I can win prior to Augusta, it always feels good"

Rather than reflect on that glimpse at a weakness, Woods chose to focus on the positive of having won multiple events before the first major of the year.

"That's how I know I can play. That's the thing. To be able to bring it out a couple times so far this year, and then able to close and get the Ws on top of that, that's nice," Woods said. "Any time I can win prior to Augusta, it always feels good. I've been able to do it a few times throughout my career, which is nice."

Can Woods win again at Augusta? His game certainly appears to be in place, but for almost a year it has been his mind that has been the real unknown. He hasn't won a major for nearly five years, he hasn't won at Augusta for eight.

Then again, winning is a habit. And Woods prepares as hard as anyone in order to acquire, and maintain, that habit.

"That's why I work my tail off and to lift all those weights, hit all those balls and spend those countless hours out there is to be in that position," Woods reminded everyone. "That's why I prepare so hard, is to be there. I enjoy being there.

"My record's been pretty good over the years."

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