Tiger Woods will be favorite to win the Masters
Johnny Miller said last week that Tiger Woods needed to play a warm-up tournament like Bay Hill to have a chance at winning the Masters. Well, Johnny never won the Masters, so maybe he doesn't know everything.
Just kidding, Johnny. I never won the Masters either (sigh!), but Augusta National is the best place for Woods to return and he'll be the favorite even in his first event back. Why? Because Woods is by far the best player in the world. As the Tour has proved this year with its winner of the week, we have a lot of really good players who are very close to each other and then we have Woods, the only player who can win when he doesn't have his best game. Phil Mickelson is probably the closest to Woods and Mickelson's not within a light year of him.
Remember, this isn't an injury comeback. Woods should feel fine physically and, according to the guys on Tour who've seen him at the range, he's hitting the ball well. For an elite athlete in a time of personal crisis, your sport is the one place where you're totally comfortable. For any of us, the first tee at Augusta National would be a terrifying place, but for Woods it's comforting. Playing will be like therapy for him. He needs to get back into his rhythm of preparing, working out and competing. That's how he's going to get his life back to normal.
The Augusta National course itself is ideal for his return because he's had so much success here and because it's not as taxing off the tee as a U.S. Open track. At Augusta National, Woods can afford to make a few mistakes and take advantage of his length in a way he couldn't do at a U.S. Open. If he was going to return at a major, Augusta makes the most sense.
The one thing I'll be watching for is Woods's distance control with his irons. If you're not playing much and not traveling to different courses, your distance control can get erratic. Anyone can hit full 7-irons on the range, but how often do you get that shot on the course? Maybe one out of every four shots. Usually, you're dealing with those "tweeners." If Woods is out of practice, that's the one thing that will hurt him because Augusta National is a second-shot golf course. You need to control your yardages there to make birdies because you're not going to make 40-foot putts on those greens. Woods didn't three-putt once when he won here in 1997 because his distance control with his irons was otherworldly.
Woods will still hold the psychological edge that made him so tough to beat. The guy has been so strong mentally for so many year that it's hard to imagine he'll just all of a sudden start making mental mistakes. Plus, I think he's going to find some extra motivation in his recent troubles. Y.E. Yang beat Woods last year in a gutsy performance at the PGA Championship, but that red shirt on Sunday will still intimidate a lot of guys.
It's sure going to be fun.
Top 100 Teacher Brady Riggs is the director of instruction at Woodley Lakes Golf Club in Van Nuys, Calif. He also hosts the Ask the Top 100 Live instruction chat on Golf.com.