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Masters win could proclaim Tiger Woods’ second reign

By Jeff Shain, The Orlando Sentinel –

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods tied for fourth in each of the past two Masters. Last year’s came with a swing still in the midst of retooling. Before that, his personal life was in upheaval.

It speaks volumes to the value of knowing how to plot one’s way around Augusta National, even if he doesn’t bring his “A” game.

Now Woods is back amid whatever’s left of the azaleas and dogwoods, with Augusta National robbed of its usual blazing color by the withered blossoms of an early spring. By contrast, he brings a game that seems in full bloom.

With his five-shot romp at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weekends ago, Woods no longer must endure questions about the dry spell that kept him winless in a full-scale tour event since 2009. Nor could the momentum have been timed any better.

“Everything is headed in the right direction at the right time,” Woods said Tuesday.

Quipped Phil Mickelson: “To have won heading in (to Augusta), I think gives him a lot of confidence. Sucks for us, but…”

It was 15 years ago that Woods captured his first green jacket – a 12-stroke demolition that sent shock waves through the sport. Now if he can score a fifth on Sunday, there’s a chance it might ring just as loudly.

“He creates excitement that no one else in the game can,” said Rory McIlroy. “A lot of people want to see him make history, and it looks like he’s back on track to maybe going and doing that.”

Woods, for his part, is keeping things understated. Tuesday’s musings were filled with words about improvement and “the process” and staying on the right track. But there was one telling statement when asked about the control he showed at Bay Hill.

“With this type of control, it’s been a few years,” Woods said. “But as far as having the (ball) speed and the pop in my game, it’s been a very long time. You know, I think I have more shots than I did in 2000.”

That’s the benchmark of the Tiger Era, when he was scoring record-setting wins at the U.S. Open and British Open. Six of his 14 majors came in a 105-week span, ending with the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage.

“I feel like I’m hitting the ball just as consistently, day in and day out, as I did then,” Woods said.

Woods led the Bay Hill field in greens in regulation, at one point giving himself a birdie putt for 19 consecutive holes over two days. He’s not only 18th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, but ranks the same in accuracy. His 68.27 scoring average leads the tour.

“You could see there were sort of flickers of the game coming back,” said Westwood, Woods’ playing partner for a Sunday 62 at the Honda Classic.

“One thing is for sure about people that are winners. When they get back into the situation of trying to win a tournament, they know how to generally finish it off.”

Donald skips par-3

Luke Donald gave himself a chance to become the first to win both the Par-3 Contest and green jacket last year, winding up three strokes shy of Charl Schwartzel’s Sunday finish.

The English pro won’t give it another try – at least not this year.

Donald disclosed that he’ll sit out Wednesday’s Par-3 shootout, choosing to focus all his energy on the main event.

“Playing on greens that are not quite the same (on) the afternoon before the first round doesn’t seem the best preparation for me,” he said. Instead, he’ll get in a leisurely nine-hole final look and await his tee time.

Donald didn’t rule out joining the Par-3 fun again in the future, especially once his young daughters can join him as caddies.

Johnson won’t play

Dustin Johnson withdrew from the starting grid, telling Twitter followers he “tweaked” his sore back last week. Agent David Winkle told reporters it happened last week while Johnson was lifting a jet ski.

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