When Tiger Woods emerged a hobbled, heroic champion after a U.S. Open playoff win over Rocco Mediate in 2008, he had just claimed his 14th major championship triumph. Five years later, who would have predicted Tiger would still be in search of his next major victory?
Sure, time would be necessary to repair and rehabilitate the injured knee he was dragging around en route to what he called his "greatest ever championship." Tiger essentially won that U.S. Open on one leg. But the years of injury, scandal, swing changes and controversy that would follow his impressive win at Torrey Pines could not have been predicted.
In 2013, few can argue that the Tiger Woods we are witnessing today is playing his best golf in quite some time. With two victories in four starts, including Sunday's WGC-Cadillac Championship win, his 76th career PGA Tour victory, Tiger is in good health and appears primed and ready for the four events that mean the most to him—the majors—commencing with the Masters Tournament in just a few weeks.
"That's how I know I can play," Tiger said after his WGC-Cadillac victory. "To be able to bring it out a couple times so far this year, and then be able to close and get the Ws on top of that, that's nice. 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."
More than a few times, in fact.
Six of the seven years Tiger had multiple wins prior to the Masters, he went on to win a major that year. So it's looking good for No. 15, at the very least, to occur in 2013.
But of all the major championships this year, I believe Augusta National plays into Tiger's hands as the best place for him to break his major drought.
Simply put, it's the "next" major on the schedule and Tiger Woods is playing arguably better than anyone else in professional golf right now. He currently leads the PGA Tour in scoring average, he's fifth in total putting and he's closing in on a long-awaited, much-anticipated return as the No. 1 player in the world. And there's those two victories.
That might be enough evidence, but let's also take a look at Tiger's track record at Augusta. Of course, there are four green jackets to his credit. And since his last win there in 2005, he finished second twice, third once, fourth twice and sixth once.
So it has never really mattered what was going on in his life—personal problems, swing changes, injuries, whatever. He knows Augusta National as well as anyone else in the field, and he usually has a game plan in place that will work on that golf course.
He's Tiger Woods. And I believe he will be in the mix again this year. I can't imagine there will be a more determined, more focused player in the field.
In saying that, however, I can't completely disregard his poor performance at Augusta in 2012. Last year's head-scratching T-40 finish was his worst ever at the Masters, and it left him frustrated and discouraged after building momentum at Bay Hill just a few weeks prior.
Afterward, Tiger talked about not trusting his new swing and falling back into old patterns on the golf course. He said he needed more reps. I don't see that happening this year. Tiger has another season of work with swing coach Sean Foley under his belt and the results are clearly speaking for themselves.
Tiger said he is now able to make adjustments on the fly without concentrating so much on the mechanics of his golf swing—something he was not able to do when his current swing was at an earlier stage in its development.
"If I don't quite hit one just right, I know exactly what to do to fix it," Tiger said. "And that was the biggest thing I didn't really understand sometimes. But understanding now, certainly helps. I feel like my game's becoming more efficient, and it's more consistent day‑in and day‑out. I'm very pleased with the progress I've made with Sean."
Tiger Woods is playing great golf. He almost always plays well at Augusta. He's supremely motivated. His swing is in order. He's putting well. And he's mentally and physically healthy. It all adds up to what should be a fifth green jacket and one more step forward in his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus for the most major championship victories in the history of the game.