As he arrives at his 19th Masters, Tiger Woods may or may not be the changed man amateur pop psychologists have cast him as. His circumstances, though, have certainly altered since he last won a Masters, all those eight years ago. He has gone from a seemingly permanent ranking as No. 1 in the world, fallen to 58th, and risen all the way up again. He has rebuilt his left knee and his swing, and some would say his reputation as well.
So he is here in a position both foreign and familiar — as the world No. 1, as the prohibitive favorite to win the 77th edition of this event, as the one player who can make a group of baked-in-the-sun fans slide down the hill of the first fairway, ready to follow him as long as he plays, precisely the scene just before 3 p.m. Tuesday. But he is also here having been weathered by travails both personal and professional, and he professes that makes a difference.
“Life is all about having a balance, and trying to find equilibrium, and not getting things one way or the other,” he said before he practiced Tuesday. “And I feel very balanced.”
Which is not, necessarily, meant to give a glimpse of how he once felt, back when he was winning Masters, which he did four times in his 20s, none since he turned 30. He is 37 now, and eight years removed from that last green jacket. Tell the 29-year-old Woods — a newlywed, not yet a father — that he would have gone this long without another?
“I wouldn’t have been happy with that,” he said.
Consider, though, the Masters since. From 2006 to ’08, he finished tied for third, tied for second, and second alone, respectively. Then, everything changed. In 2009, he arrived here still coming off the knee surgery that cost him the second half of 2008, and tied for sixth. In 2010, he arrived with the salacious details of his rampant infidelity still fresh in the public’s mind, and he hadn’t hit a competitive shot all season. He somehow tied for fourth. In 2011, he was divorced, and in the throes of the only true slump of his career — winless for 17 months — and again tied for fourth.
And last year, with expectations beginning to ratchet back up because he won his most recent tournament before the Masters, he turned in his worst performance as a pro at Augusta, a tie for 40th in which he was 5 over par, experiencing a wholly different sensation: irrelevance.
Now, he said he has found joy in a relationship with gold medal-winning skier Lindsey Vonn. And with wins at Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill, he has the field on notice.