There are many golf pundits who claim that after no major titles in 2012, and an ohfer in his last 14 majors overall, Tiger Woods's days as an odds-on favorite to win the game's greatest championships are over.
Here are four reasons why those naysayers are wrong, and why Tiger should be considered the favorite for golf's next major: the 2013 Masters.
There are currently 70 PGA Tour professionals eligible for invitation to next year's Masters. Of this group, 19 are past champions, and of this storied club, just four finished in the Top 30 on the money list in 2012.
This "fab four," if you will, consists of Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger, with the latter two being the only multi-time winners of this small group.
Though Phil has won a Green Jacket—2010—more recently than Tiger, Woods still has the advantage in terms of total titles, with four to Phil's three.
While it's tempting to think that past success may not play a factor for Woods, as he is now approaching 37 years of age, we must remember that experience does play well at Augusta. Since 1993, nine of the past 20 Masters champions have donned the Green Jacket at least once before.
We all remember that fateful November night in 2009 when Tiger crashed his Cadillac into a tree and received multiple facial lacerations, among other things.
While he hasn't won a major championship since the scandal that followed, his performance at Augusta National has been far better than his play at golf's other three majors.
Tiger finished tied for fourth at the 2010 and 2011 Masters, and despite finishing with a T40 at this year's contest, he still finished tied with Rory McIlroy, who is still neck and neck with Woods in terms of Vegas odds for next year's tournament.
On the whole, Tiger has played his last 216 holes (three 72-hole tournaments) at Augusta at 16 under par, which brings us to our next point.
Over this same time, Rory McIlroy has played Augusta at a whopping eight over par. The Northern Irishman's past three Masters have looked like this: 2012 (+5), 2011 (-4), 2010 (+7).
Now, it's worth mentioning that Rory was cut in the '10 Masters, but that's hardly a reason to ignore this comparison.
There are many more ways to slice this head-to-head rivalry at Augusta, and each statistic almost always points in favor of Woods. Consider the following:
- In his best finish at the Masters (2011), McIlroy actually experienced one of the biggest major-championship collapses in recent memory, shooting a final round 80 en route to a disappointing T15 finish. McIlroy led the tournament's first three days of play.
- Speaking of Sundays at Augusta: In his three opportunities to play a final round at the Masters, Rory has broken par just once, in 2009. Tiger, meanwhile, has only failed to break par in the final round at Augusta three times in 16 chances.
- While the Masters has been Tiger's best major since 2009, where he has finished T6, T4, T4, and T40 over his last four tournaments, it has been Rory's worst by far. It is the only major where the golfer has failed to achieve at least one top-ten finish, with his past four tournaments looking like this: T20, Cut, T15, T40.
We could go on all day, but despite his higher world ranking and one-stroke victory over Tiger at this year's Duel at Jinsha Lake, Rory will still be looking up to TW at Augusta in 2013.
Throughout the course of his career, one of Tiger's greatest assets has been his confidence on the links, and it's no surprise that this has looked shaky at times since his 2009 scandal.
It's encouraging, then, that the golfer has showed some renewed faith in his ability to pass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Golf.com, Woods shared how he's viewing the record: "If you say hypothetically 10 years, that's 40 more major championships I get a chance to play in and compete in and try to win, and hopefully I can try to at least win five of those."
Furthermore, Tiger told press last week (via FOX Sports) that he "still feel[s] [he] has some of his best golf to play," adding that he's "very excited about next year."
While it's easy to brush off these comments as lip service, we must remember that Tiger has historically mentioned to the media when he believes his game is off, and it's encouraging to see how positive his outlook has become.