Masters: Tiger Woods gets emotional, says he can contend at Augusta National

AUGUSTA, Ga. – As he recalled his 2019 Masters victory during his press conference Tuesday at Augusta National, Tiger Woods teared up a bit.

“I’m getting chills thinking about it,” Woods said about his one-shot victory over Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele, picturing in his mind a few moments from his magical journey to his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship triumph. “Coming up 18, and knowing that all I have to do is just two-putt that little 15 footer and to see my family there and my mom and my kids and all of the people that helped support me or were there for me in the tough times, and I was walking up there trying not to lose it, and still saying, ‘Hey, I’ve still got to two-putt this.’

“Then I walked off the back of the green, to see (son) Charlie there, just opened up our arms, it meant a lot to me and still does. It just reminded me so much of me and my dad (hugging after his 1997 Masters win), and to come full circle like that, it stills gets me you know, a little teary.

“Pretty good bookends.”

Now Woods, 44, wants to prove he hasn’t closed the book on his Masters memories. Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Woods has been in possession of his green jacket for 19 months. But if he’s to extend that tenure, he’ll have to drastically reverse his form of 2020.

In just eight starts this year, Woods has one top 10. He has ties for 37th, 40th, 51st. 58th, 72nd. He finished 68th in another tournament. Missed the cut in the U.S. Open. He is an accumulative 21 over par this year. He hasn’t tasted Sunday contention since winning last fall’s Zozo Championship in Japan.

“It’s been either I haven’t put all the pieces together at the same time,” said Woods, who has fallen out of the top 30 in the world rankings – he’s 33rd – for the first time in two years. “Whether it’s I’ve driven well or hit my irons poorly. Or I’ve put the ball-striking together, and I haven’t putted well. And then I’ve had it where I’ve putted well and I’ve hit it poorly. I haven’t put together at the same time.

“I haven’t played a lot, obviously. But it’s been gearing up for the major championships and trying to understand what we have to deal with, you know, this year with COVID and trying to be safe, and I was hesitant to come back and start playing, and that’s why I waited as long as I did and came back at Memorial. From there, I really haven’t, as I said, I haven’t put all the pieces together, and hopefully that will be this week.”

Last year, Woods said he found his swing leading into the Masters, that he was able to shape the ball, especially high draws, on command, and his confidence was peaking as he drove down Magnolia Lane. This year he’s not as confident.

“I was working on a few of the things that I was working on last year coming into the event, being able to hit a high draw. My body is feeling better than I did last year, so it was a little bit easier to hit those shots,” Woods said. “Hopefully this year, I’ll be as consistent as I was last year. Last year, I was able to hit a lot of really good iron shots and I putted great. I had a great feel of the greens.

“Today, I did a little bit of work on the greens, just like I did last year. Tried to get a feel for the greens, and the greens were a little bit slower than I had expected. But you know, with the rains coming up and the forecast, you just never know. That’s one of the neat things about trying to figure this tournament out is Wednesday to Thursday, this golf course changes a lot.

“Hopefully I get the same feel as I did last year and put it all together.”

World No. 3 Justin Thomas won’t dismiss Woods’ chances.

“Someone like him or Phil (Mickelson), I’d never take them out at a place like this,” Thomas said. “I think this course is so unique that you don’t need to play great to have a chance to win. I think you just need to be playing OK if you know the golf course. You have to be chipping and putting well, but you can be hitting it OK and get it around this place more than OK.

“You know where to hit it, you know where not to hit it. And no one knows that better than Tiger. I think especially with the forecast the way that it is, it’s not going to be too cold, which I know is helpful for him.

“I know that he takes this event so seriously, he takes them all (seriously), but he knows this place so well and he knows that he has a big advantage, I think, over half the field before even teeing it up.”

On the 25th anniversary of his first Masters start as an amateur in 1995, Woods thinks he can match Jack Nicklaus’ record six Masters victories. What he’s done so far in 2020 doesn’t matter. He has one more week to change the year’s narrative.

“Do I expect to contend? Yes, I do,” Woods said. “This is a golf course in which having an understanding how to play and where to miss it and how to hit the shots around here, it helps. When I first came here, it was a lot of drivers and a lot of wedges. Now it’s a little bit different and a little bit longer clubs into the holes, but still understanding how to play it definitely helps. That’s one of the reasons why you see past champions able to contend so late in their careers.

“Hopefully I’ll be one of those guys.”

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