Tiger Woods finally completed four rounds of competitive golf last weekend in the WGC-Cadillac at Trump Doral. Once again back spasms limited his scoring ability in the final round.
Can his results thus far in the 2013-14 PGA Tour season be used to predict his performance at the Masters in one month?
Everyone remembers Woods’ four career wins at the Masters, but one of the least mentioned statistics about his performances at Augusta National has to be his overall record there.
Woods won low-amateur honors with a T-41 finish in his first appearance in the 1995 Masters, and he has only finished outside the top 10 on five occasions in 18 starts there as a professional.
For most professional golfers just qualifying to play in one or two Masters tournaments during their career and making the cut or finishing inside the top 10 are only dreams.
Woods owns four Green Jackets and holds the record for the largest winning margin at the Masters.
His win at the 1997 Masters really began when he played his first event as a professional in September 1996, at the Milwaukee Open. In eight events at the end of the 1996 season, Woods did not miss a cut, won twice and collected five top-10 finishes. He earned full playing privileges on the 1997 PGA Tour and a trip to Augusta National.
Continuing his stellar play in January, he won the first tournament of the 1997 season at the Mercedes Championship. He made every cut prior to the Masters and added two more top-10 finishes in six starts.
During the first round of the Masters, he posted a four-over par 40 on the front nine, but he turned his day around with a six-under par 30 on the back nine and finished in red numbers. He trailed the tournament leader, John Huston by three shots after that first round, but never trailed again, posting rounds of 66-65-69 to win by a record 12 shots.
His total strokes of 270 set the low-scoring record for the Masters, but he was just 21 years old with no achy knees or sore back.
Woods won his second green jacket in 2001. He had finished fifth in the 2000 Masters and went on to win the three remaining major championships plus six regular tour titles that year.
He began 2001 with five top-10 finishes in seven starts prior to the Masters, including wins in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship.
He posted 70-66-68-68 to finish at 16 under par and win by two shots. He became the only player, other than Bobby Jones, to have won all four major championships in a 12-month period.
Although he did not win all four titles in the same calendar year for a true "Grand Slam," his feat was dubbed the "Tiger Slam."
Even though Woods did not win the 2000 Masters, he had a spectacular 2000 season and carried his remarkable level of play into 2001.
He won two more titles in 2001, collected nine top-10 finishes and earned $5.7 million for the year.
Still riding a hot streak, he began the 2002 season with a win at Bay Hill and four top-10 finishes in seven starts. He went on to win his second consecutive Masters title and third overall.
At the beginning of 2004, Woods left Butch Harmon and switched to Hank Haney and implemented new swing changes. The result was one win, 14 top-10 finishes and no major championship victories. From the beginning of July 2004 to the end of the year, however, Woods finished inside the top 10 in nine of his 10 starts.
At the beginning of 2005, he finished T-3 in Hawaii, won at Torrey Pines and added another win at Doral in seven starts.
The 2005 Masters was shortened to 54 holes due to heavy rains. Tournament leader Chris DiMarco and Woods were paired for the final round, and they put on one of the best finishes in Masters’ history.
DiMarco led by four shots at the start of the day and added three more birdies to get to 13-under par after the front nine. Woods finally passed him with seven consecutive birdies on Nos. 7-13.
He finished that final round with a seven-under par 65 and won by three shots.
Once again Woods had used a strong early-season campaign with two wins in seven starts to get ready for the Masters.
It has been eight years since Woods last won the Masters. Injury, swing changes and other issues have hampered his golf career, but he still has finished inside the top 10 seven times.
Even when he is not at his best, Woods can score well at Augusta National.
Woods has only made three starts on the PGA Tour thus far in 2014. He finished T-80 at Torrey Pines and did not make the 54-hole cut. In his second PGA Tour start of the season at the Honda Classic, he posted lackluster rounds on Thursday and Friday, shot a solid five-under par on Saturday but withdrew from the tournament in the final round citing back spasms.
He did play four competitive rounds in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour, but he finished a distant T-41.
His play last weekend at the WGC-Cadillac was erratic. He posted a first-round 76 and was well down the leaderboard. His second-round 73 in heavy winds was one of the best rounds of the day. It left him at five over par for the tournament, and he gained ground on the leaders.
Woods showed golf fans a glimpse of the old Tiger on Saturday, posting a six-under par 66, the low round of the day. It got him to one-under par for the tournament, and he was in striking distance of the lead.
His back became an issue once again. The tightness returned and restricted his swing for the final round on Sunday. He ballooned to a six-over par 78 on Sunday and fell 21 spots to T-25.
History suggests that Woods normally needs to see some success early in the season to win the Masters.
With so few rounds played on the PGA Tour, one T-80, one withdrawal and a T-25 at the WGC-Cadillac, that is certainly not the case this year.
Woods still has the Arnold Palmer Invitational to sharpen his game and has had success at Bay Hill.
Will these few appearances and now back issues allow him to win his fifth green jacket and 15th major title this year?
The jury is still out, but with just Bay Hill remaining on his schedule before the Masters, it is not looking promising.
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