Tiger Still the Man to Beat

Tiger Still the Man to Beat

Thursday was one of the better first rounds Tiger has had at the Masters.
Robert Beck/SI

• Thursday at the 2008 Masters was a war of attrition. This magnificent golf course is brutally difficult. The greens are unbelievably fast and shiny, like Gary McCord’s forehead. But unlike McCord, they’re quite beautiful.

• I know he woke up today four shots off the lead, but Tiger Woods is still the favorite. He was actually fairly happy with the way he played yesterday. It’s one of the better first rounds he’s had at Augusta. He’s still the man to beat. Think of it like this: If he’s eight shots better than the field entering the tournament, he begins Friday with a four-shot lead.

• Some say the course is playing like a U.S. Open, but Augusta is unlike any other major site. If you hit it offline, you usually have a shot at recovering, like Tiger did when he threaded it through those trees on 17. If you hit it in the second cut here, you might find a small hole through the trees and possibly hit the green. Miss the fairway at the U.S. Open and you’re chopping it out sideways — you’re deader than George Burns.

• Newsflash! Phil Mickelson has biceps! I’ve been working with him in some commercials, and the guy has gotten into great shape. Unlike me. I’ve lost a pound since my bicycle accident last month, but I’ve lost 11 pounds of muscle and gained 10 pounds of fat. So it’s more like a 21-pound net gain. I’ve added three inches to my waist, sitting on my ass eating too much ice cream and candy.

• Justin Rose and Trevor Immelman finished Thursday tied for the lead. They’re both capable of wining here. Rose was my pre-tournament dark horse. I think he will win a green jacket — it’s just a matter of what year. But if either Rose or Immelman win this year, they’ll need help from Tiger.

• I really like Ian Poulter, who shot a 2-under-par 70 on Thursday. If he gets the chance on Sunday, he’s not afraid to win. You have to be comfortable on the big stage, and he looks ready to me. He’s got that outgoing, garrulous personality. He believes his own press. And hey, if you dress like that, you’d better believe you’re great.

• Look for low scores today. Seven under might be leading by the end of play. We could see a 65 with these conditions. Come Sunday, the winning score will probably be under par, but not many under. It depends on what they do to the greens. The Masters is truly unique — it starts like a sprint, but it’s the guy with the most stamina who wins. It really is a tradition unlike any other.

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