Masters Tournament: Can a healthy Tiger Woods really win in 2019?

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 08: Tiger Woods of the United States looks on during a practice round prior to The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 08: Tiger Woods of the United States looks on during a practice round prior to The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) /

The Masters Tournament and Tiger Woods are synonymous, the greatness of each adding to the legacy of the other. Woods has won at Augusta National four times in his illustrious career, but can he really find a way to win his 15th career major this week?

The Masters Tournament has long been one of the greatest events in all of sports, and Tiger Woods has become one of its greatest champions. A four-time winner at Augusta National, the course has been “Tiger-proofed” over the past two decades, but he’s still got seven top-ten finishes in ten starts since his last victory in 2005. Now, though, each trip to the Masters brings a question that becomes more and more important as the years press on.

Can Tiger Woods win another green jacket, and in doing so move another step closer to reaching Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 career majors?

It’s a fair question, and one that I find myself asking each year as well. Woods has seemed almost preordained to surpass the legend of the Golden Bear almost from day one of his professional career (if not earlier). Woods won his first Masters as a professional in 1997, his 12-shot margin of victory beating a pair of Nicklaus records. In 1965, Nicklaus defeated Arnold Palmer and Gary Player by nine strokes, his 17-under total matched just once prior, by Raymond Floyd in 1976.

If Augusta National were art (and it certainly is), Woods has been the Matisse of Magnolia Lane. It took 16 years as a professional before Tiger finished the Masters outside the top-25. Woods is also a cumulative 99-under par in 76 pro rounds at Augusta, giving him a 70.7 stroke average over 19 Masters Tournaments. Even when you throw in his six rounds as an amateur in 1995 and 1996, Woods owns a 70.93 scoring average, more than a stroke lower than Nicklaus’s average (71.98) over 163 rounds.

Granted, the sheer number of rounds Jack played is amazing. It would take Tiger 20 more healthy years of making the cut to match that number, and I don’t think any of us expect to see Woods making competitive starts at Augusta into his 60s. Nor can we really compare the way the course played in the 1970s to its current form. But this serves to illustrate two points: first, a reminder of how incredible a healthy Tiger has been; second, it serves as a look at what could still be in 2019.

The return of Tiger Woods to this place has been years in the making, of course. But the constant through seemingly every obstacle that Woods has encountered his is place of peace: Augusta National. He’s at home on those hallowed grounds. And even at 43 years old, if there’s any course where Woods can win major No. 15, it has to be Augusta.

“If Augusta National were art, Woods is the Matisse of Magnolia Lane”

Overall, Tiger’s game looks to be in solid shape heading into the year’s first major. His putting, though, still leaves something to be desired. It’s not stopping him from scoring, but it has been the difference in some big spots recently. Woods beat Rory McIlroy in spite of poor putting at the WGC Match Play, and it was the flatstick that got him eliminated against Lucas Bjerregaard in the quarterfinals later that same afternoon.

We all know how important putting is on Augusta’s icy slick greens…or do we? We know that getting hot on the famously undulating surfaces can make all the difference, but when you look at the numbers, you might be surprised. Putting is actually the least important stat, at least in terms of strokes gained from the past ten winners. Check this out, from Dylan Beirne of The 15th Club.

Tiger is off the pace in strokes gained off the tee, but well ahead in approach, around the green, and even putting. He also ranks ninth on TOUR in the tee-to-green metric, and sixth overall. So the putter may have cost him in Austin, but Augusta National could be an entirely different story. Oh, yeah, he also shot 65 in a practice round last week ahead of the tournament. If he can keep it between the pines, he should be in good shape all week.

Finally, if we’re being honest, Tiger Woods winning his fifth Masters at 43 – three years younger than Jack when he won his sixth in ’86 – would just be the best possible story for all types of golf fans. It’s the type of story that can only be written at Augusta National, a place that he knows better than anybody else in this field. Heck, he may know it better than almost anybody else walking the Earth today.

Next. 2019 Masters Dark Horse Picks. dark

Predicting how four days will play out on golf’s grandest stage is no small task, especially with weather predicted to play havoc potentially all the way through Sunday afternoon. But I always have a hard time betting against one of the greatest players of all time. Healthy, happy and more focused than ever, don’t be surprised if Tiger makes a return to Butler Cabin one more time this week.