Tiger for the Masters

Golf: Does Tiger’s Recent Performances Set Him Up for the Masters?


 

Don’t look now, but arguably the greatest golfer to ever play, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, has suddenly again become a force on the PGA Tour. Tiger has two Top 10 finishes in his last two tournaments played. This had led to some speculation that Tigers ready to roar back in the Masters Tournament at Augusta from April 5 through April 8.

Is the speculation true? Has Tiger actually improved enough to win a Major PGA Golf Tournament? Keep reading to find out what I think!

Tiger for the Masters Tournament?

The Augusta National Golf Club established the first Major PGA Golf Tournament of the year on March 22, 1934. Ever since March 22, 1934, the greatest golfers in the world have attempted to win the coveted green jacket that goes to the winner of the Masters Tournament.

Some believe the Masters Tournament is the most coveted single event in golf. The Masters is such a prestigious event that it’s part of the PGA Tour, the European Golf Tour, and the Japan Golf Tour. Every golfer that’s ever played dreams of winning a green jacket at the Masters.

Does Tiger’s recent form suggest that he’s in line to win at Augusta in early April?

Tiger’s Masters History

There was a time when Tiger owned Augusta National Golf Course. From 1997 to 2005, Tiger won a blistering four Masters Tournaments. That’s unheard of in the sport of golf where winning a single major, it doesn’t matter which one, often eludes the grasp of the very best.

Woods won his first Masters in 1997. He was only 21-years-old. By winning the Masters in 1997, Tiger became the youngest player to ever put on a green jacket. He followed up his win in 1997 with back-to-back Masters wins in 2001 and 2002. Then, he took home his fourth green jacket in 2005.

Tiger knows how to play the Augusta National Golf Course. Not only that, but his play in recent tournaments suggest he’s got his eyes trained on a fifth Masters win.

Tiger’s Valspar Championship Performance

The Valspar Championship took place between March 8 and March 11. Tiger finished second with a 9-under. His performance was breathtaking. Tiger shot a Round 1-71 at the Valspar Championship before settling down and dominating the course in Round 2.

Tiger’s Round 2 performance, a brilliant 68, put him in the running for the Valspar Championship Trophy. That’s also the round that caused many golf fans and golf analysts to take notice. Tiger followed up his Round 2-68 with an even more impressive Round 3-67.

The 2018 Valspar Championship took place over the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida. Copperhead is a par 71 course. It’s also a 7,340 yard course. It’s tough for PGA pro golfers to hit par on any course in any round. Tiger shot a 2-under in Round 2. He shot a 3-under in Round 3. Based on his Round 2 and Round 3 performances, Tiger appeared set on taking home his first PGA Tour win since 2013. However, Woods could only muster a Round 4-70, a 1-under, on Sunday.

Did Tiger take a step back in his Round 4 performance? Not really. The winner, Paul Casey, shot a 65 Round 4 at the Valspar Championship. If Casey hadn’t shot the 65, there’s a good chance Tiger might have beaten Patrick Reed in a playoff.

Tiger’s Arnold Palmer Invitational Performance

Tiger’s performance in the Valspar Championship was encouraging. What was more encouraging is that Tiger followed up the great performance at the Valspar Championship the following week with an equally impressive performance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Tiger finished at 10-under. That tied him for fifth place in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Arnold Palmer Invitational takes place at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida. Woods knows the course well, which might explain how he shot under par in 3 of the 4 rounds. After Round 1, Tiger was at 4-under. He had shot a 68 on a par-72 course. After Round 2, Tiger remained at 4-under.

His Round 2 performance at Bay Hill was good enough to shoot par. Woods would shoot a 69 Round 3 and a 69 Round 4 to finish at 10-under. That’s not bad. Rory McIlroy, considered the best golfer in the world by most golf analysts, shot an 8-under Round 4 to secure a -18. That allowed McIlroy to win.

McIlroy simply dominated the course in Round 4. If McIlroy hadn’t dominated the course, Woods might have lost by only 5 strokes instead of losing by 8.

Why Did Tiger Play So Well at the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational?

Tiger’s form has definitely turned around. The question is why? As golfer’s age they must adjust their swing. The great Tom Watson did this so that he could play competitively well into his late fifties. Watson almost won The Open Championship, often called the British Open, in 2009. Tom Watson was 59-years-old at the time.

The reason Watson was close to becoming the oldest golfer to ever win a Major PGA Tournament is because he had changed his swing.  Watson no longer utilized power as much as finesse. He played a more position golf game.

Tiger hasn’t necessarily turned into a position golfer. Instead, Tiger has changed his swing to protect his back. Woods’ biggest issue the past 5 years has been back problems. While working on different swings over the past 5 years, Tiger has searched for the swing that prevents him from exacerbating his already bad back.

It appears that Woods has finally found the perfect swing for him. One of the key moves to Tiger’s new swing is how he moves off the ball, a few inches from the target, by the time he finishes his back swing. As Golf Digest Teach Professional Jim McLean said, “It’s a power move, for sure, but it’s also good for someone with a back problem. There’s a lot less side-bending going on, so the bottom of his spine isn’t feeling extra pressure. I like this change. If you think about golfers who were great drivers, such as Nicklaus and Norman, they loaded up behind the ball instead of feeling like their body was over it.”

Bottom Line:  Is Tiger Ready to Roar at the 2018 Masters Tournament?

Tiger Woods’ new swing should put him in a great position to win the 2018 Masters Tournament. He almost definitely will be competitive enough to make the cut. He should also be competitive enough to be in contention for a Top 5 finish after Round 3.

Will the new swing help Tiger enough for an actual win at Augusta this year? I don’t know. Based on the way he played at both the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger is once again one of the best golfers in the world. But, to win a fifth green jacket, being one of the best, or even the best, might not be enough.

Golf has changed a lot since 2013 the last time Tiger Woods won a PGA Event. Woods was 2013’s PGA Tour Player of the Year. It was an award he had won ten other times before 2013. Since Tiger’s last hurrah year, though, young golfers like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy have dominated.

Those young golfers are consistently good. Tiger’s been consistently good as well. The difference is that Tiger’s been consistently good for two golf tournaments. Even if he plays in every PGA Tour event from now until the Masters Tournament, Tiger will have been consistently good for only five PGA Tournaments. Day, Spieth, Johnson, and McIlroy have been consistently good for the past 3 to 5 years on the PGA Tour.

That doesn’t mean Tiger Woods can’t beat those young players. It does mean Tiger’s still got a long road ahead before beating those guys in a major golf tournament. Right now, I believe Tiger definitely roars at the Masters Tournament in early April.

I’m not sure he bites, though.