RETURNS TO THE MASTERS
Green jackets, Magnolia Lane, Amen Corner, Rae’s Creek, Butler Cabin: these things are what makes April so special to golf fans all over the world.
And this year you can add in another one: Tiger Woods.
This year’s edition of the Masters is shaping to be one of the best in recent years, thanks in no small part to the resurgent return of Tiger.
After missing the last two Masters through injury, Woods is now pain-free and looks ready to again capture the imagination of not only the golfing community, but the entire sports world.
THE NEEDLE-MOVING IMPACT OF TIGER WOODS
Woods will undoubtedly be the focus at Augusta after surging into contention and outright Masters favouritism on the back of his performances in the Valspar Championship (T2) and Arnold Palmer Invitational (T5).
In a sign of just how much Tiger moves the needle, the final rounds of the Valspar Championship and the API were the two most watched non-major golf telecasts since the 2015 Wyndham Championship, and the Saturday coverage at the Valspar was the most watched non-major third round since the 2006 WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
And with Tiger battling it out with eventual winner Rory McIlroy in the final round of the API, viewer numbers were up by 136 per cent compared to the previous year's final round when Australian Marc Leishman was victorious.
The four highest rating PGA tournaments this season have been the events where Tiger has made the cut: the Farmers Insurance Open, Honda Classic, Valspar and API.
On the digital side, 27.2 million minutes of the Valspar Championship were streamed, which was bettered only by the 2016 and 2017 Open Championships and 2016 Ryder Cup.
Social media also went crazy with Tiger in contention and the impact trickled right down to club level.
A bartender at a US golf club reported her tips tripled on the Sunday when Tiger made his Valspar run, as people lingered at the club much longer than usual to watch the outcome.
It’s what’s known as the Tiger effect.
THE NEW TIGER?
It’s a fair bet that most of the saccharine storylines emanating from Augusta will be of the "Tiger fairytale comeback" variety. While he's never going to reach the Phil Mickelson-level of fan engagement, Woods seems more likeable and relatable after going through his injuries and personal issues.
Indeed, he appears happier on the course judging by his lead-in tournaments and there has even been the odd occasion when Tiger's intimidating, steely-eyed, on-course assassin expression has given way to a smile and laugh: strange times indeed.
TIGER WOODS’ EQUIPMENT
He plays a mix of TaylorMade and prototype TGR irons (his personal company) and has his old Nike wedges, which are no longer manufactured, in the bag. (Image Credit: Golf Monthly).
A Scotty Cameron Putter is his chosen weapon on the greens and he plays a Bridgestone Tour B XS Golf Ball.
TIGER WOODS: THE MASTERS FAVOURITE
So what are his chances like at Augusta this year, despite being the bookies' pick?
Well it looks like the chipping yips that plagued him in 2015 have completely disappeared. His chipping was superb at the Valspar Championship and the API, ranking second in strokes gained around the green in both tournaments.
Form like that will boost his chances at Augusta National, where confidence and feel around the greens is crucial to getting up and down and saving par.
In terms of driving distance, Tiger Woods has been getting the new TaylorMade M3 driver out there, ranking 37th at the Valspar and sixth at the API for average driving distance.
His driving accuracy, which has previously been an issue, has been OK too. He was around the 60 per cent mark for both the Valspar and API, but his out-of-bounds fan with the driver on the 16th hole at the API effectively cruelled his chances.
Putting is probably the area which will make or break Tiger at Augusta. His putter never got warm in the final round of the Valspar Championship apart from the 43-foot bomb he sunk on the 17th. To put it in perspective, Valspar winner Paul Casey had only 21 putts on Sunday - nine fewer than Tiger in the fourth round - and a spectator heckled Tiger with the old "Does your husband play?" when Tiger left a putt well short on the eighth green.
Tiger ranked eighth in putting strokes gained at the API to be in good shape heading into Augusta, but after three straight tournaments playing on Bermuda greens during the PGA Tour's Florida swing, a return to the pristine Bent grass greens at Augusta hopefully won't stop the momentum.
But with Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, John Rahm and Justin Thomas all winners so far this season, and Jordan Spieth a genius around Augusta, a classic Masters should ensue.
TIGER’S AUGUSTA STATS
Tiger Woods made his Masters debut in 1995 as an amateur, and just two years later in 1997 golf was changed forever when he claimed his first green jacket.
The 12-shot gap Woods put on the field still stands today as the biggest winning margin at a Masters and cemented Tiger as the hottest property not only in golf, but among all athletes.
Tiger Woods has notched four Masters wins, in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005, and has also finished in the top 10 nine times.
He has completed 78 rounds at Augusta, only missing the cut once in 1996 , and his career scoring average around the par 72 Augusta course is 70.86, the best of any player.
Judging by his stats, he eats up the Augusta par 5s:
Tiger Woods’ scoring record at Augusta:
Par 3s: +28
Par 4s: +33
Par 5s: -150
His stats around the tough stretch of holes on the 11 th, 12 th and 13 th known as Amen Corner, are similarly impressive, recording a career total of -27 to date.
Woods is currently ranked 105th in the world (he was 711th in September 2016).
18 FACTS ABOUT AUGUSTA
1. The land Augusta National sits on was once an orchard called Fruitland Nurseries before it became a golf course.
2. The crowd watching the Masters are referred to as "patrons".
3. The winner of the previous year's Masters gets to choose the menu for the Champions Dinner, held on the Tuesday evening before the Masters.
4. The famous Cheese Pimento sandwich is an Augusta tradition and costs only US$1.50.
5. The Pimento-gate scandal occurred in 2013 when the sandwich recipe was changed, leading to considerable outrage.
6. Food and beverages are kept low at the Masters, with soft drink $2, an egg salad sandwich $1.50 and a Georgia Peach Ice Cream Sandwich just $2.
7. A ticket lottery is held each year to determine a small number of general entry passes.
8. Adam Scott was the first Australian to win the green jacket in 2013.
9. Marc Leishman, who was paired with Scott on the final day, summed up the feelings of a nation when he was photographed fist-pumping Scott's crucial birdie putt on the 18th.
10. Jack Nicklaus holds the record for Masters wins with six. He was 46 years old when he won his last.
11. To become a member at Augusta National you must be invited by a current member.
12. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are both members of Augusta National.
13. The winner of the green jacket can travel with it for a year, after which it must remain at the club.
14. Only one player has won the Masters at his first attempt: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
15. Kids aged between eight and 16 can attend the Masters for free if they accompany a badge-holder.
16. Caddies at the Masters have to wear special white overalls, instead of the shorts and bib they normally wear at every other tournament.
17. The white sand in Augusta's bunkers is actually a fine quartz that is a by-product of the refining process of aluminium.
18. Six of the last 15 Masters have been won by left handers.