Can Tiger win? And other Masters thoughts

Can Tiger win? And other Masters thoughts

It's now Wednesday at the Masters and what's there to talk about? Still Tiger Woods, of course. Ron Green Jr. raises two key questions. The first is whether Tiger can actually win this week, and he quoted Phil Mickelson's response: "That's a crazy question. He showed he can win in much worse condition in the 2008 U.S. Open," Mickelson said.
A sharper point from Green:

have been suggestions that the past few months have eroded one of
Woods' greatest assets – his intimidation factor. His personal problems
have exposed a previously unknown side of Woods, shattering his
carefully cultivated public image.
If some, perhaps most, players looked at him with a sense of awe before, how differently will they see him now?… There is one more what if. What if Woods is somehow better now than he was before?
was obviously a lot of distraction outside the golf course, and you've
got to think with that going to settle down and go away…he's going to
be a better player on the golf course going forward," Padraig Harrington said. "But
maybe that's not short term. I'm talking longer term … I think he'll
be a stronger player because of it. Adversity makes you stronger." 

Larry Dorman in the New York Times examined the obstacles being faced by Woods and Phil Mickelson:

Woods, absent from the game since last November when he won the Australian Masters, has no form chart to measure his progress. In baseball terms, he has not faced live pitching. And that is just the physical side of the
equation. On the mental side of the most mental of sports, there are more
uncertainties. How will he deal with uncertainties about the turmoil in
his personal life? His reception at Augusta National has been warm, but
come Thursday will he be able to manage the shift into the
single-minded and hyper-focused player who, by age 34, has won 71 tour
events, 14 of them major championships?

Woods does not yet know the answers. After the fall he has taken, and
the effort he has made to pick up the pieces, picking up his play to
the level it was when he left off may require as much, or more, mental
toughness than he had at his peak.

Can Tiger really change his stripes at this point in his career? Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press raised a valid point with this anecdote:

Tiger Woods never felt he had to apologize for his temper.  Perhaps the most infamous moment—and there are many—came at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open, which he won by 15 shots.
off the fog-delayed second round on a Saturday morning, Woods hooked
his tee shot on No. 18 into the ocean and screamed a series of profane
words captured by the boom mike next to the tee marker. In most homes,
it was cartoon hour. Eight months later, during a practice
round at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Woods came to the 18th tee
and went through a list of more swear words as he tried to remember
exactly what he had said. Someone finally helped him out by repeating
the phrase, adding, "At least that's what my kids told me."
Woods didn't find this funny. His face hardened. His eyes glared.
"I am who I am," he said and walked away.
And now he's going to try to be someone he has never been. 

Woods hysteria has now reached such heights that even Tiger's practice round gets reported on. Of course, it helped that Mark O'Meara, who played Tuesday with Woods, came out of the clubhouse to speak to a gaggle of waiting reporters after they finished. Woods didn't.
Chris Gay captured these highlights for the Augusta Chronicle:

Woods spent Tuesday fine-tuning his game in preparation for his
first tournament golf since November. Though the four-time Masters
champion hit several shots off line, leading to mulligans — his drive
at No. 7 flew into the trees; his approach at No. 18 found the right
bunker — O'Meara said his friend looks like he'll be in contention
later this week.
"If he doesn't play well this week, I'll be surprised," O'Meara
said. "I'm always surprised when he doesn't play well. He's going to
give it everything he has. He'll do well. You know you never bet against him. He hadn't
played much before he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. For him, it's just a matter of being comfortable.
"You know confidence is a big thing in this game, even at Tiger's level. And that takes a little bit of time to develop. But I like what I saw today. He's ready."

Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press isn't the first to notice the potential role reversal for Tiger and Mickelson, especially given Tiger's stated goal Monday to be a kindler, gentler and more fan-friendly player.

Phil Mickelson has been spared the task of dreaming up a new persona. It's already been done for him. He's the kind of guy Tiger Woods wants to be. Devoted husband. Family man. Smiling. Generous. Friendly. Nothing more profane than a "darn" coming out of his mouth. The kind of guy you wouldn't mind seeing your sister date.
The guy you laugh with your buddies about in the locker room because
he's out signing autographs by the hundreds while you're taking a
steam. The guy whose life suddenly looks so good now that yours has gone so bad.

So, Tiger, tell us. Who's the phony now?

But there was more than Tiger to talk about on Tuesday at the Masters. John Gonzalez of the Philadelphia Inquirer made the trek down Washington Road to do the now-cliche story on John Daly selling merchandise from his trailer in a parking lot, a recent Masters tradition. Cliche or not, Gonzalez captured the desperation of the scene better than most:

Daly stood outside his monstrous RV with girlfriend Anna Cladakis (as seen on the TV show Being John Daly!). The mobile home was parked in the Windsor Jewelers lot, just across the
street from the Augusta players' entrance and a few yards down from the
Army recruiters and their made-in-America camouflage Hummer. A row of
long folding tables was set up end-to-end in front of the golfer and
topped with all sorts of officially licensed Daly items, ranging from
hats to golf balls to floor mats – all of which were branded with his
lion head logo or initials or both.
Welcome to Daly's itinerant flea market, making stops at a golf tournament near you sometime soon. While the oppressive sun
beat down and golf fans walked past with Styrofoam to-go cups and
Koozies packed with sweaty Miller Lite cans, Daly posed for pictures
and handed out handshakes.
"I've been here since 8 a.m.," Daly said. "I'll be here all day."
He was wearing a white T-shirt with "Arkansas" across the chest in
black letters, gaudy black-and-white animal print shorts courtesy of
one of his sponsors, Loud Mouth Golf, and well-worn black sandals. A
faded black hat with a lion head logo sat atop his head, and dark
sunglasses covered his eyes.
After taking a long pull from the cigarette in his right hand that
had nearly burned down to the nub, Daly grabbed a crumpled $10 bill
from a patron and stuffed it into his makeshift cash register – a small
metal container no bigger than a shoe box with a lock on the lid.

Another obvious but relevant story being done by many this week is the recent rise of golf in England. Eight Englishmen are competing in this week's Masters, a record, and the country is practically giddy. James Corrigan covered his lads in patriotic glory for The Independent:

Two by two the English went out on to the Augusta National yesterday, each
foreseeing the end of their country's Masters drought. Luke Donald and Simon Dyson, Ross Fisher and Chris Wood… if the old strength in numbers theory holds any weight, then Nick Faldo's last green jacket in 1996 may soon have another companion.
But then came a three-ball to send the jingoists wild. England has never gone into a major boasting three members of the world top ten before. But here they were, a trio a red roses rising proudly above the azaleas. No. 4 Lee Westwood. No. 6 Paul Casey. No. 7 Ioan Poulter. As a statement of a nation's intent, it was positively Churchillian.

Raymond Floyd went quietly Tuesday, announcing that he would not play in a 46th Masters this week. He is 67. Michael Whitmer of the Boston Globe gave Floyd his due. Floyd won in 1976 and was a runner-up three times.

"I don't feel like it's the end of an era," said Floyd, who also won the US Open (1986) and PGA Championship (1969, 1982). "I've always enjoyed it. It has the fondest of memories, all of my appearances. I
didn't want to go out and embarrass myself. I toyed with [playing], but I have a good feeling that I've made the right decision."

Wednesday's feel-good story of the day was about Augusta native Carl Jackson, best known for serving as Ben Crenshaw's caddie at the Masters. Jackson created the Carl Jackson Foundation last fall. Its goals include encouraging children to stay in school. Jackson himself dropped out of the ninth grade to begin caddying at Augusta National to support his mother and family. David Westin got the story for the Augusta Chronicle:

"It's something I wanted to do because I walked away reluctantly
(from school)," Jackson said. "I was a better than decent student. I
had the desire to be a good student. It was pretty tough on me."
The first recipient of the Carl's Kid award is A.R. Johnson Health
Science and Engineering Magnet School junior Chad Harris, who was
selected by a vote of the teachers at his school. The 18-year-old
received two tickets to a practice round and $100 toward school
Harris, accompanied by A.R. Johnson business teacher George Edwards,
watched Crenshaw and Jackson as they played a practice round Tuesday at
Augusta National. Harris had never been to the Masters before.
"I've never seen anything like this — it's pretty beautiful. It's majestic. You barely see a leaf out of place," Harris said.
"He's been in this city all these years, like many other kids, and
can't get a mental picture of what's going on on these grounds," said
Jackson, shaking his head.

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