Tiger's on the prowl again, but can he reinvent himself?

Voice of Reason

MARK REASON
Last updated 07:56 05/04/2012

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OPINION: 'Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32," said the Beeb's Harry Carpenter when Ali rumbled Foreman in the jungle all those years ago.

Harry was a gentle man from the British middle classes who gave the impression of having worn a cardigan all his life.

But the event was too big for Harry to contain his vowels in South Norwood, Suburbia. Ali turned Harry into a blasphemous sinner.

Lord only knows what will happen to the English language if Tiger wins the Masters on Sunday night in Georgia.

Imagine Tiger Woods rolling in a putt through the long evening shadows and fist pumping the humid Augusta air in triumphant revenge. What would you say then? How would any of us react? "Oh my God, he's won the title back at 36." Maybe. But they have laws about this sort of thing at the Masters - don't drop litter, don't run, no cellphones, mind your language.

When Woods won the Chevron last December he said: "Don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years."

Quoting LL Cool J doesn't make you cool and it doesn't make you right. Tiger hasn't been here for years. And maybe he will never be here again.

But a lot of the world seems to want Tiger to find Ali-like redemption at this year's Masters. They seem to need to believe again, to worship Augusta's Resurrection Man.

Can Tiger come back from the dead? Two years ago the media room was ticket only when Woods gave his first press conference since "The Fall". The venue was significant. Woods has always felt more protected at Augusta. Ironic given the South's history of segregation, but Tiger does best living in a fantasy world.

Yet never have I seen Woods look so unsure of himself. He sweated profusely. He couldn't look reporters in the eye. He wouldn't discuss Elin. He was badgered with questions about drug use. Woods knew that some people were sniggering at him and that some people pitied him.

Two years later Woods goes to Augusta believing he can win the Masters for the first time since 2005, for only the second time in 10 years. After his recent win at Bay Hill, Woods said: "You're looking for one week, that's all. I understand how to play Augusta National and it's just a matter of executing the game plan."

You cannot argue with Tiger's knowledge. Since his last Masters victory Woods has finished 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 6th, 4th and 4th. The question is not whether he will be in the frame, but whether Tiger still has the aura of invincibility to carry him to victory. Last year he charged into a share of the lead on the final Sunday and then slipped away like a distant memory.

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His former coach Hank Haney says: "Unlike the Tiger in his 20s and early 30s who was virtually indomitable, today's Tiger has discovered that in real life, disaster lurks. Plans don't come true. Things can go wrong. That realisation creates doubt, and in competitive golf, doubt is a killer. . . . The big miss found its way into his life. If it's ingrained, primed to emerge at moments of crisis, his march toward golf history is over."

Haney continues to chip pieces off the statue. Woods is cheap and hated Steve Williams asking for a rise. He embarrassed his 2006 Ryder Cup team-mate Zach Johnson, a devout Christian, by running the porn channel. He didn't like Elin smiling at the moment of victory because he was "supposed" to win.

Is Tiger still supposed to win? When Adam Scott was asked yesterday who he would back, the Australian replied: "Tiger's got to be in the mix. He's playing well. He knows what he's doing."

Tiger also holed 62 out of 67 putts from inside 10 feet at Bay Hill and, shock horror, led the field in total driving. It's a while since he drove up Magnolia with that sort of form.

The bookies have Woods favourite, but you can make a case for many others in what is set to be a thrilling year.

I like Phil Mickelson, who is "confident" after finishing fourth at Houston. Mickelson has won three of the previous eight Masters and, apart from the years when he has been defending his title, a responsibility he does not handle well, has not finished outside the top seven since 1998.

Scott has Steve Williams on his bag and spoke of a little extra motivation and knowledge, having finished second last year. Rory McIlroy can humble Augusta if he putts well. Hunter Mahan has won twice already this year. Justin Rose and Luke Donald are favoured to produce a first English winner since Faldo in '96.

But no-one, not even Phil, will get the roars cascading around Augusta like Tiger.

From the moment Tiger hits his first ball up the hill of Tea Olive, we won't be able to look away.

Is it just the magic of Augusta or is it also the thought of the emperor's old clothes? We want Tiger to wear red again. We want the world to be like it used to be when Ali and Tiger were young.

z Mark Reason is a sportswriter formerly with The Times of London and Daily Telegraph in the UK. He now lives in Wairarapa.

- Taranaki Daily News

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