Tiger sets out on road to Grand Slam glory

Tiger Woods opens his quest for an unprecedented Grand Slam of golf at Augusta National on Thursday, carrying the lowest odds ever for a player at the outset of a Major.

The world number one is quoted at evens or just above evens to win a fifth Green Jacket, with the next best being two-time winner Phil Mickelson, who is at 10/1 for the title.

Woods has a 10.45am local time tee-off, playing in the company of US Open champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Stuart Appleby of Australia, who led entering the final round last year.

He played 18 holes on Sunday and Monday and nine on Tuesday to fine-tune his game, but the American knows the lines and contours of the famed layout as well as anyone in the elite 94-strong field.

Experience, he says, is vital at Augusta.

“I just feel comfortable on this golf course,” he said. “Experience definitely helps.

“But you have to keep evolving, because the golf course keeps changing. They keep changing the greens on you.
The fairways, the tee angles. There’s little subtle changes and obviously you have to mark that down and put it in the memory banks.”

No one is contesting that Woods will be in the thick of things down the back nine come Sunday afternoon. In the last seven years he has won three times and tied for second and third.

The question is whether someone else can be inspired enough by the occasion to raise his game and take up the challenge, as Zach Johnson did last year and Mickelson did the year before that.

Mickelson, who opens with rising Argentine player Andres Romero and in-form Korean KJ Choi, has seen his form fall flat after an encouraging tournament win in Los Angeles in February.

But the world number two said he is not unduly concerned about that.

“I’ve had some 20th-place finishes the last few weeks, but I actually feel really good about my game because my ball-striking has been good to this point,” he said.

“I need to spend some time on my chipping and putting and that’s an area I’ve never really been concerned with.”

There are a host of other imponderables going into the year’s first Major.

Will Ernie Els’s decision to switch coaches from David Leadbetter to Butch Harmon pay rapid dividends?

Is Vijay Singh over the hill at 44 and can Johnson rediscover the magic touch that propelled him to glory last year?

Who will lead the challenge for a first European win in nine years? British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Order of Merit winner Justin Rose being the likeliest flag-bearers.

One player who already looks doomed, however, is South African Rory Sabbatini. He won Wednesday’s Par-Three contest fully aware that no victor of that knockabout has gone on to win the Masters four days later.—AFP

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