Posted April 09, 2013 on AP on Fox
(Eds: With AP Photos.) By TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports Columnist He's got a swing he can finally trust, a putter that shows flashes of the old magic, and a string of wins to prove that it's all finally coming together. The superstar girlfriend is an added bonus, though by now so much time has passed that the debate about Tiger Woods revolves around the state of his game, not his personal life. Winning may not take care of everything, as his latest Nike ad claims. But six wins in his comeback are a confidence-inducing tonic for Woods, and the commercial is certainly more upbeat than the one Nike ran two years ago with his late father ominously asking him what he could have been thinking. Woods is more upbeat, too, and with good reason. When last seen here a year ago he was kicking clubs, missing putts and muttering to himself about chances gone awry. He didn't break par in four rounds, and left with barely enough prize money to fuel up his private jet. Now he's a heavy favorite to win his fifth Masters and kick start his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus in the majors. The swagger that has always suited him so well seems to be back, and the way he was talking Tuesday this might not be a good year to bet against him. ''I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game,'' Woods said. Woods could have been talking about his life, too. More than once during his pre-Masters news conference he did, especially when speaking of the joys of fatherhood and how he can teach his children the basics of golf in the backyard short game complex at his South Florida mansion. Lindsey Vonn wasn't mentioned at all, but she has to figure in all this newfound bliss, too. Just a few weeks ago, Woods and the Olympic skiing champion announced they were in a relationship in a series of photos both posted on social media sites. And while Woods is normally taciturn to a fault in interviews, he laughed, had a few funny lines, and was more introspective than usual in the press center on Tuesday. ''I think it's just a balance, a balance in life,'' Woods said. ''I think that's what you're seeing.'' Whether it all translates into another green jacket is anyone's guess. Golf is a funny game even for Tiger Woods, and the tricky greens of Augusta National have derailed his high hopes before. He won four Masters in a nine-year stretch after breaking through with his historic win in 1997, but he hasn't celebrated here since 2005. This is a Masters he badly - almost desperately - needs, and not just to completely validate his comeback from injuries and marriage scandal. The clock is ticking on his chase of the Nicklaus record of 18 major championships - Woods has 14 - and the player who once held all four major titles at once has now gone almost five years without winning even one. He's 37 now, not an advanced age by any stretch for a golfer. But Woods has been playing the Masters for half his life - this will be his 19th time competing - and as each year goes by another opportunity slips away. There's a 14-year-old from China who wasn't even born when Woods won in 1997 in the field this week and if Woods had to be reminded about time passing by, he was by a question about what age he would entertain becoming a ceremonial starter in the Masters like Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. ''Let me just try to get to 40 first,'' he said. Woods is still the No. 1 player in the world - taking over from Rory McIlroy after winning at Bay Hill earlier this year - but his drought at the majors is more often the subject of conversation than the fact he has rebuilt his game and is winning again. That's partly his own fault, since he has focused almost singularly on them ever since he was growing up in Southern California with a chart of Nicklaus major championship wins on his wall. ''It took Jack a while to get to 18, all the way until he was 46 years old,'' Woods said. ''So there's plenty of opportunities for me.'' The first of those opportunities begins Thursday morning on a course he both knows and loves. Woods is a player who tends to win in bunches on certain courses and, aside from last year's lackluster performance, Augusta National usually brings out the best in him. His winning drought in majors has been long, but not terribly surprising considering he had to rebuild a knee, a swing and a personal life after winning the U.S. Open on one leg at Torrey Pines. Woods cautioned repeatedly that at least the knee and swing were a work in progress, but golf at this level also requires a clear head and the kind of focus that made Woods so fearsome in his younger days. The Masters is always huge because of what it represents and because it is the first major of the year. For Woods, though, the stakes are even higher this year, if only because he needs to demonstrate to himself that he can still win at the highest level. The man he's chasing understands that better than anyone. ''It's been a while,'' Nicklaus said. ''He's going to have to figure it out. But I think if he figures it out here, it will be a great boost for him. If he doesn't figure it out here, after the spring he's had, I think it will be a lot tougher for him.'' For now, Nicklaus is the greatest golfer ever, and until Woods catches him the title is still his. This week could say a lot about how long or fruitful that chase will be. ---- Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES
NOT OUT OF THE WOODS

McIlroy downplays rivalry with Tiger

Speaking to the supposed rivalry between himself and Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy said that given Tiger's success, "I wouldn’t really be doing him much justice."

Tiger Woods is the overwhelming Vegas favorite to win 2013 Masters Tournament

Now that Tiger Woods is back in his groove, he is back atop the betting odds for the upcoming 2013 Master's Tournament.

Tracking Tiger Woods at the Masters

Tiger Tracker

Tiger Woods, Ben Crenshaw impressed by fourteen-year old Guan Tianlang at Masters

Guan Tianlang is only 14 years old, but he is already competing in the Masters, becoming the youngest to ever tee it up at golf's biggest event. Tiger Woods is impressed.

For Tiger Woods fans, a day to sleep in

It's small consolation, but hardcore Tiger Woods fans who can't make it to the Masters for Thursday's opening round can at least take the morning off. No matter how many screens you own, golf's biggest draw won't make his way onto any of them until sometime after 1 p.m., EST, when the Woods' threesome - which includes Luke Donald and Scott Piercy - reaches...

Tiger Woods biffs putt attempt at 2013 Masters Tournament

Tiger Woods enjoyed a great first day of golf at the 2013 Masters Tournament, saved for this biffed putt, that is.

Is Tiger of old back for the Masters?

He's got a swing he can finally trust, a putter that shows flashes of the old magic, and a string of wins to prove that it's all finally coming together. The superstar girlfriend is an added bonus, though by now so much time has passed that the debate about Tiger Woods revolves around the state of his game, not his personal life. Winning may not take care of everything...

Woods to play with Donald, Piercy

Tiger Woods will play the first two rounds of the Masters with Luke Donald and Scott Piercy. Woods has played with Donald before in majors, though never in the opening rounds at Augusta National. Piercy is making his Masters debut. They are in the morning wave Thursday, teeing off at 10:45 a.m. Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are at the back end of the draw for the opening round...

Tiger Woods Playing With Luke Donald, Scott Piercy, Tees Off at 10:45 a.m. ET Thursday

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods will play the first two rounds of the Masters with Luke Donald and Scott Piercy. Woods has played with Donald before in majors, though never in the opening rounds at Augusta National. Piercy is making his Masters debut. They are in the morning wave Thursday, teeing off at 10:45 a.m. ET. Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are at the back end of the draw...

Is Tiger primed, or past his prime?

As only he can, Jack Nicklaus cut to the heart of what is the most important major of Tiger Woods' career. "He's played very, very well this spring," the Golden Bear said on Tuesday. "If he wins here, I think that it would be a very large step towards regaining confidence. "He has not won a major in (five) years ... if he figures it out here, it will...

Tap In Golf Interview: Hank Haney

This past weekend, legendary swing coach Hank Haney was in the DC area promoting his junior golf academy, the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the man that coached Tiger Woods for about six years. We chat about many things including The Master’s, Rory McIlroy, Tiger, and most importantly, Five Guys burgers and fries. ...
Golf News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.