| Defending champion Tiger Woods hits from a sand trap on the 17th green during a practice round for the Augusta Masters Tuesday. (Reuters)
Tiger Woods is unconcerned that his attempt to win an unprecedented three consecutive Masters has not received the attention it might have done. However, he believes it is down to the war rather than the controversy surrounding Augusta and its no women policy.
“There’s a lot more important things going on in the world right now,” said the champion.
Having said as much, he did not mind admitting that he could not be more dedicated to winning the event for a third time. “When you’re in a position to do something which has never been done before,” he said, “you have to take advantage of it.”
He had revelled in collecting three US Junior championships and three Amateurs but this would mean more because of the stronger competition.
Like many another, Woods hurried round Tuesday with a view to getting in before the heavens opened and there was more of Monday’s heavy rain. The course was already wet and heavy but, as he said, there were rainy days last year and in 2001.
“I enjoy the challenge,” he said. “Everyone’s got to deal with it. All you can do is to suck it up and play the best you can.”
Because of the forecast, the World No. 1 spent much of last week working with his driver, knowing that he would be needing that club more than his three-wood. Tuesday he confirmed his impression that the newly adjusted Augusta continues to favour those who can hit the ball high, long and straight. “You’ve got to get it out there,” he stressed.
Against that, he noted, “all my high bombs” were picking up mud — all of which meant that luck was going to play its part.
The reason Woods did not have his first practice round until Tuesday was because he sees Augusta as an old friend: once you know it, it stays much the same. He talked of the understanding he has of each and every hole and cited how he felt when he was practising some little chips from the back of the short sixth.
“I was able to tell myself that this was an easy chip because I had holed it last year,” he said.
When Woods was asked whether he would be thinking of Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson as his rivals this week, he shook his head. “You can’t,” he emphasised, “start worrying about individuals... Whoever is there on the back nine on Sunday is there. What I’ve got to do is concentrate on getting there myself.”
Even as he was winning at Bay Hill three weeks ago, Woods was going down with a bout of food poisoning which cost him six pounds he could ill afford to lose. He is now only a touch below his best fighting weight and feels fitter than at any time in 2001 and 2002.
Still on the subject of weight, those who suggested that Colin Montgomerie’s loss of form was tied in with a loss of weight can rest assured that that is not the case. The Scot, like Phil Mickelson, was looking among the more comfortably contoured players on the range Tuesday, the impression being all the more marked in that there was a lean Nick Faldo working next door.
Tuesday morning, as the spectators started to mount the stands behind the range, someone called to the first of them and asked, “Is Tiger there'”
“No,” came the reply, “but Nick Faldo is”.
Faldo, at that moment, was being encouraged to make more of a shoulder turn by his coach, Jeremy Bennett. His striking was packed with confidence and, when he and Justin Rose took to the course, you could see that he had walked these fairways a million times before and that Rose was very much the new boy.
Faldo was striding ahead, though he was always there for Rose when he needed him. At the 15th, for example, after the younger player had hit two resounding shots aboard the green, Faldo advised that he drop a ball short of the stream and try catching the putting surface with a wedge.
Sergio Garcia got across the hard grind that is Augusta for so many of them this week when he explained that he had needed a drive and one iron to reach the green of the 465 yards 18th Tuesday. Only last Thursday, it had been a drive and eight iron.
The course is hard work, too, for the spectators. None among the women are out and about in their finest Bobby Jones clothing, with the only fashion statements thus far coming from the men.
In a light-hearted reference to the troubles of the chairman, Hootie Johnson, and his aim to keep Augusta a male-only establishment, everyone has been buying what they are calling “Hootie hats” — floppy cricket hats edged in Augusta green.