He is not the favorite, nor should he be, heading into the 2011 Masters. However, completely counting out Mr. Woods from being the man to don the green jacket on Sunday would be foolish.
He is too talented and knows how to win on this golf course better than anyone in the field, including the defending champ.
Although, obviously, he has played more golf this year heading into The Masters than a year ago (0 tournaments last year), he still has not played much compared to the rest of the field. This fact will not be one of the 10 reasons he could possibly win this week. It will certainly not help him.
But, there are reasons for Tiger fans to be a little optimistic. Although, I do stress the words "a little."
Here are 10 reasons which could contribute to Tiger winning green jacket number five and, more importantly for him perhaps, a golf tournament. Any golf tournament.
Okay, I admit, this doesn't sound like a reason he could win at Augusta, it sounds more like a reason he won't win. But, consider this. This is not the first time Woods has undergone major mechanical changes in the swing before.
If nothing else, he has proven he can win in the midst of a major swing alteration, and win convincingly. Again, it is not a recipe for success, but he has overcome it before.
97 is Tiger's total professional wins. 14 are his major titles. These are numbers every other person in the field can only achieve while they are sleeping at night.
One more number for you. 4. That is the Masters championships Woods has claimed.
Not only has he won four times, but consider this: In the last 14 years Woods' worst finish is 22nd. Only three times in those 14 years has he finished outside the top 10. That is 11 top ten finishes in 14 years. The only other player who can claim such dominance of America's finest golf course is the defending champ, Phil Mickelson. Mickelson has made the top ten 11 of the past 12 years.
I'd like to separate experience from top ten finishes and wins for just a second. Consider that the Masters is the only major played on the same course every year. There is something to this, and the fact that guys like Woods and Mickelson do so well on this course every year, as the previous slide indicates.
Very rarely does a player who has never played Augusta before even get anywhere near the top ten. The only one to win here on his first try in the modern era was one Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
It may very well not be Tiger or Phil who wins this year, but it is a safe bet it will be someone who knows the course and has had some level of success here in the past.
A good Bleacher Report article on this very topic can be found at the following link:
Could not being the favorite for the first time in over a decade at Augusta actually be something that could help Tiger?
Well, it can't hurt.
Asked if it bothered him he wasn't the favorite, Woods said, "That's fine. You still play the tournament. Everyone has the same opportunity I do. You just gotta go out there and play and see where you are at the end."
Not having that burden on him this week might be just what the doctor ordered.
A lack of confidence, as well as some other well documented issues, has been hurting Tiger's game since his return 12 months ago.
It seems like that confidence may be creeping back in. Granted, this is not an observation based on anything he has done on the golf course, but more so just in his general personality.
An example of this would be the comment made by the never short on comments Ian Poulter earlier in the week that Tiger had little chance to finish in the top ten (although Poulter said later that he wouldn't count Woods out, but that didn't get as much press).
Woods' response to Poulter's comments, when asked about them, is what makes me think he may be gaining some of that swagger back.
"Well, Poulter is always right, isn't he," said Woods sarcastically.
Tiger went on to say, "You haven't seen the best of Tiger Woods yet. I can assure you that. I believe in myself."
Sounds like a whole lotta confidence to me.
A year has passed since the circus of Tiger's return a year ago.
It has not been a good year (understatement of the decade), but time has passed, which is always a good thing when trying to put something behind you.
The circus is still there, but it is a smaller circus, and the scandal questions have been replaced with reporters asking him if he thinks he'll ever win again. Granted, the questions are just as stupid, but they seem a little easier to handle.
A comfortable pairing is always helpful, especially in the first two rounds.
Tiger will be teamed with Robert Allenby, a good friend.
Allenby for one is excited about the pairing.
"Yeah, I'm good buddies with Tiger," Allenby said. "I've played with him here many times before, which is good."
Also in the group is the reigning U.S. Open champ, Graeme McDowell.
Although there has not been a lot of evidence of this produced by Mr. Woods, he does believe his short game is coming around. He actually seems to have some confidence in it. And with your short game, that is often half the battle.
"As far as my short game," he said, "it's progressing. I was able to make a few changes with it technique-wise. I spent a lot of time here chipping and putting and working on it. So feeling very comfortable, and looking forward to getting out there."
This is not rocket science, I realize that, but there is something to be said about one's chances in a smaller field.
This is true not just for Tiger of course, but for everyone in the field at The Masters.
Only 99 players will tee it up on Thursday. This is by far the smallest field for a major every year. And several of these are past champions who have little to no chance of being a factor.
Simply put, the smaller field can't hurt.