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Run down to Augusta
Adam Scott will doubtless be adjusted in the bookmaker's odds for the Masters and, indeed for the Majors that follow, but Tiger Woods will remain favourite. This may fly in the face of current form but, as I have been so often told, the bookmaker always knows best. Atlanta may only be an hour's flight away from Ponte Vedra, the TPC may aspire to be the fifth Major and Sawgrass may even be a sterner test than the National course. But the Masters requires more than nerve and muscle, for as Ian Poulter, the man who has been asked not to dye his hair for the week will tell you, it also makes demands on decorum and taste.

There is no denying that Adam Scott has nerves of steel. The question is, does he have tissue of ttanium? Woods has shown that he is apparently devoid of nerves and some seem prepared to argue that, in his defiance of the best advice to contact Butch Harmon, he is devoid of brain cells as well. But the Tiger is an altogether different animal when it comes to matters of the mind.

After Woods returned his fourth successive tournament card over par, a 75 at Sawgrass following his last three rounds at Bay Hill, he was entirely unperturbed. It was the worst succession of rounds that he had experienced since 1998 when he had six successive rounds over par. It all came as a shock at the time for so much was expected of him. It started in the last round of the Memorial, went on through all four rounds of the US Open and ended after the first round of the Western. He was as calm about that run as he is now and, although many found his attitude to his play confusing then, they can only look back in wonder for he has played in 120 events since without missing a cut. His winning percentage and top-10 finishes have broken all records and anyone who thinks that his dominance is coming to an end simply has to watch him strike a golf ball - he remains on an altogether different plane.

At the conclusion of his first round at Sawgrass, some were bewildered by his attitude when he said: 'I just have to get myself going.' He had just missed eight of the 14 fairways he had attempted to hit - two he missed to the left, the others to the right. Those that he missed to the right were blocked drives that would have graced the game of a muscle bound duffer. From the tee, and often with long irons, he looked as if he would be pushed to break 80.

The fact that he was five strokes under 80 speaks volumes for he took only 26 putts. Woods is so good in every department of the game that when one aspect lets him down another compensates.

The simple fact of the matter is that Woods is having difficulty getting himself up for routine events and this is exactly what he was referring to when he said that he has a problem in getting himself going.

Perhaps every department of Woods' game will never again gel in the way that it did through these halcyon years about 2000, but they only have to click together for two or three days for him to emerge head and shoulders above everyone else in any field. It is noteworthy that Pod Harrington, after his unforgettable last round at Sawgrass, when pressed to speak of Tiger's form, simply smiled and said: 'He's the man.'

Not forgetting that Woods has already come out and won this year, his attitude at Bay Hill and again at Sawgrass, appeared to be one of indifference. He may not feel it that way for he is doubtless trying very hard, but utterly focused he is not. This was manifestly clear when he played Sawgrass' notorious 17th hole in the first round last week.

Woods can spit the ball the 132 yards carry over the water onto the hugely generous 17th green at Sawgrass. But he hardly deigned to look at the green as he teed up his ball and took the club from Steve Williams. When he hit the ball it was clearly destined for the water even before it had reached the almost unbelievable zenith of its flight. It never even touched the green, passing straight over the flag to land some 10 yards in the water beyond.

He looked astonished at his own idiocy and he looked pointedly at Steve Williams who understandably had found something to preoccupy him elsewhere. It wasn't Williams' fault and it wasn't a swing fault either. It was simply a concentration fault that is usually the provenance of a mid-handicap player.

Woods never gave the shot to the 17th green the focused attention required. He never envisaged it before playing it in the same way that he played so many in that round and those that followed it. He was mechanical, simply going through the motions of playing in yet another tournament, and for Woods, Sawgrass was simply another tournament.

Augusta and the Masters is something altogether different.

©    5 - APRIL 2004

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