Monday, March 31, 2003
AUGUSTA -- Tiger Woods has his sights set -- again -- on achieving something that's never before been done in golf: A third straight victory at the Masters Tournament.
It is well-documented that Augusta National Golf Club brings out the best in Woods, 27, who already has won three times in six attempts here as a professional. In his first full season on the PGA Tour, and first Masters appearance as a professional in 1997, Woods posted a 12-shot victory over Tom Kite. Woods shot a tournament record 270, 18-under-par.
In 25 of his 30 rounds at Augusta National, Woods has matched or bettered par 72. He's done it 22 out of 24 times since turning professional. In his three victories, he's a total 46-under-par.
No wonder he can't wait to get back.
"I think once you've had success on the site you can always say as you're preparing for it and as you're playing it, 'I've done this before,'" Woods said during the annual defending champions' Masters teleconference. "That's a pretty powerful statement to yourself as you're coming down the stretch and you've got a chance to win, that you've done it here before.
"It definitely gives you a sense of calmness."
Only three men have won the coveted Green Jacket back-to-back. Jack Nicklaus was the first to do it, winning in 1965 and 1966. Nicklaus, who has won the Masters a record six times, first did it in 1963. He tied for second the following year, a distant six shots behind Arnold Palmer, before adding two more in a row. The bid for a third by Nicklaus in 1967 ended when he missed the cut.
Nick Faldo equaled the Nicklaus feat with his successive victories in 1989 and 1990. On both occasions, Faldo won in a playoff. He defeated Scott Hoch in 1989 and Raymond Floyd in 1990.
Both Nicklaus and Faldo will be in the field to witness Woods' attempt. For Nicklaus, it will mark a return to Augusta National and his 43rd appearance in the tournament. Nicklaus announced last week, after two practice rounds at Augusta National, that he'll return for the 40th anniversary of his first victory at Augusta National.
Nicklaus, 63, said he's up to the task physically and is hitting the ball better than he was last year so he's better able to cope with the demands of the longer Augusta National layout. Nicklaus missed the Masters last year with a lower back injury.
Augusta National underwent significant changes before the 2002 Masters. However, the true nature of the renovations were overshadowed by hard and persistent rains during tournament week which prevented the players from experiencing the course as it was meant to be played when Tom Fazio redesigned and lengthened several holes. Weather permitting, this year will mark the first test of those changes, plus another at the reconfigured fifth hole.
Between the time the players arrived at Augusta National last year and played practice rounds to the time they got on the first tee Thursday, the course had changed dramatically, according to Retief Goosen, the South African who was runner-up to Woods last year.
"Some of the guys played practice rounds before the rain and they said the greens were impossible," Goosen said. "And then the rain came and it was nearly impossible to keep it from spinning off the green. It will be nice to play the course finally the way it's supposed to be, quite dry, and the greens pretty firm, because I have not played that course yet when it's been dry."
The only revision to the course for 2003 features the par 4 fifth hole, where the tee was moved back and over to create a dogleg effect, and the fairway bunkers were moved closer to the green. The carry over the bunkers now is over 300 yards with the total length 455 yards. And those fairway bunkers are cavernous.
"I didn't even make it to the bunker," said Mike Weir, the left-hander from Canada after a recent practice round at Augusta National. "It's about 290 yards to the bunker, about 315 carry."
To experience the bunker, Weir stepped down into it.
"It"s ugly," he said. "You can't get out. You can get out but I don't think you can get to the green unless you get unbelievably lucky. I was right at the front of the bunker looking up and I couldn't see anything."
Davis Love III, winner of The Players Championship, is among the most anxious for the Masters Tournament to arrive. One of the handful of longest hitters in golf, the lengthened course is a good fit for Love, he's already won twice this year (including the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) and he's got two runner-up finishes at Augusta National (1995 and 1999).
"I may go up this week and play a fun round or two," Love said. "I'm going to keep my head down there. I'm honored to be playing in the Masters. I'm honored to be going to a place that's done so much for golf.
"I'll be prepared and I'll do my best. I might win and I might not but at least now I'm back to where I was when I was picked as a guy that had a chance to win Augusta."