Tiger Woods is the second favourite to win the Masters
Nostalgia, romanticism and collective blind spots can contribute to warped thinking among fans and even fellow players but cold-hearted bookies do not tend to suffer from such afflictions.
The prospect of a fifth Green Jacket for Woods has moved from fantasy to reality.
He may not quite have closed out his 80th PGA Tour win on Sunday but the man who denied him by a stroke – Paul Casey – saw enough to convince him that, at 42, a rebuilt Woods, whose career was saved by spinal fusion surgery last April, will be a factor in the season’s first Major.
“I’m amazed at Tiger’s clubhead speed this week, it was absolutely outstanding,” said the Englishman.
“I’m excited to see him play. I just so want the young guys to see what we saw for such a long time. It would be really, really cool.”
Tiger Woods could plot his way around Augusta National in his sleep. As well as his rollcall of wins, he also has nine top 10 finishes at the Masters.
That has never been in doubt.
Tiger Woods finished runner-up at the Valspar Championship
But the positive answers to the questions over his fitness in 2018 and form at Innisbrook indicate that it is time now to begin to think of Woods as a Major winner-in-waiting once more.
“I’m seeing the normal Tiger, the Tiger I’ve known for 24 years,” said Ernie Els.
“The Tiger that was not quite the same guy was because of the injuries – it must have been so disappointing to him. Now, he’s swinging hard, he’s swinging with confidence. He has that energy believing his body is back, he has the talent and he’s done the work.”
Woods’ return as a contender is drawing eyeballs back to golf.
The viewing figures in the United States for the Valspar Championship were the highest PGA Tour ratings for almost 12 years. The pull if he happened to be in the shake-up on Sunday evening at Augusta would be black hole-like.
Woods’ own assessment is that his game remains a work in progress – but he likes the shape of the graph. He is moving through the gears as he prepares to tee it up again at the Arnold Palmer Championship at Bay Hill this week.
Valspar winner Paul Casey has backed Tiger Woods for future success
“I believe my game is progressing. I had really some nice building blocks a couple weeks ago at Honda and I’ve had a few tweaks for this week and it paid off,” he said.
“I felt very comfortable. My game was quite solid this entire week. As a whole I felt very good about what I did this week.
“I had a good shot as winning this golf tournament. A couple of putts here and there and it would have been a different story.” Woods sent the place wild with a 45ft birdie putt at the penultimate hole to pull within a shot of Casey but could not repeat the dose from 35ft at the last.
Casey was, of course, delighted to have spoiled the storyline and denied Woods what would have been his first win for five years but after being congratulated by the 14-time Major winner, he let on that even he was almost rooting for Woods.
“I actually thought he was going to win today before the round started. I thought it was just teed up beautifully for him,” said Casey.
“I said a couple times if I don’t win this thing I actually want Tiger to win it.”
For Woods it was both confirmation that he is on the right track in the here and now and an invigorating spool back to the glory days – and he loved it.
“Wow, what an amazing week...people, atmosphere, adrenaline, back nine on Sunday,” he tweeted. “Man, I’ve missed this.”
Latest William Hill odds for The Masters, which starts on April 5: 8/1 Dustin Johnson, 10/1 Jordan Speith, Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, 14/1 Rory McIlroy, 16/1 Jason Day, 18/1 Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, 20/1 Bar.