If we are to believe Tiger Woods, it’s good to be playing well by the time you drive Magnolia Lane early in Tournament week and get ready to play the Masters.
“It’s about building momentum and getting better and trying to time it so that you’re playing at a high level when you get to Augusta,” Woods said.
Woods won two weeks ago at Bay Hill and did so in dominating style – by five shots and by leading the field in birdies, greens in regulation and strokes gained putting.
You’d have to say that Woods has followed his own recipe, because the four-time Masters champion is clearly playing at a high level with the Tournament only days away. And as you may have guessed, Woods isn’t alone, not by a long shot. There is a lengthy list of players who’ve come to the Masters carrying buffed-out games with them.
Eight of the top-20 players already have won this year.
So if the seventh-ranked Woods is indeed playing well, he’s got company.
Perhaps foremost among them is second-ranked Rory McIlroy, the most consistent player of late, with top fives – including a victory at the Honda Classic – in all five of his worldwide starts this year, and top fives in 12 of his last 13 events.
McIlroy said he emphasizes the mental side of his game.
“I feel like I’ve always been a pretty confident guy,” he said. “But I think I’ve got a lot more belief in myself now when I’m going down the stretch. I definitely don’t doubt myself as much as I used to.”
Then there is Hunter Mahan. The only two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year rose to No. 4 in the Offical World Golf Ranking after he won on Sunday at Houston. Mahan now owns five top 11s in nine starts this year and at Houston tied for first in greens in regulation, a quality of game that is sure to help him at Augusta National if he can keep it going with his irons.
Mahan, who tied for sixth at Torrey Pines, won the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship when he defeated McIlroy in the final. Mahan’s stats show he is second in total driving and fourth in driving accuracy.
You simply can’t ignore Luke Donald, the top-ranked player the world, who won the Transitions with a fourth-round 66 and a 13-under total of 271. Donald isn’t known for his distance off the tee (he ranks 178th), but he’s first in strokes gained putting and 10th in scoring.
Phil Mickelson is always a threat at the Masters and remains one of the most dangerous players at Augusta National, where he’s won three times: in 2004, 2006 and 2010. Mickelson owns a victory this year, at Pebble Beach, where he shot a closing 64 and finished at 17-under-par while facing down Woods in their final pairing.
Mickelson had a good chance to claim victory No. 2 at Riviera, but he lost in tight playoff to Bill Haas. The key to any Mickelson success always seems to rest on his putter, and Mickelson ranks third on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting.
When Justin Rose won at Doral, he moved to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking and continued a strong start to his season that may have begun when he tied for fifth at the Honda. Rose’s 69.26 scoring average is fourth on the PGA Tour, and like everyone else in the group of expected front-runners, he knows how to handle difficult courses.
And as the hottest players get ready to take on Augusta National, they know there are plenty of other challengers in their way ... such as Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel, to name a few.
Woods said the simplest way to keep on the right track is to remain consistent.
“Fine tuning here and there, making the adjustments, that’s a good sign for Augusta,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my opportunities this year in the majors, starting with the Masters. There are four of them, and hopefully I can peak at the right time for all four of them.”
The first test is coming right up.