JOE BIDDLE: Masters will show if Tiger is back

JOE BIDDLE: Masters will show if Tiger is back (Image 1)

Tiger, or the field?

That seemed to be the prevalent bet being bantered about as the 77th Masters' first round went into the books Thursday.

It appears to be a sucker bet. The safe wager would be on the field. The numbers are solidly stacked in your favor.

The fact so many analysts are taking Tiger, however, has been stunning. It reflects their confidence that Woods and his game are coming together to the point where they think he is head and shoulders ahead of the field.

The field won Thursday, as Woods shot a 2-under par 70. A dozen golfers finished ahead of Woods, led by co-leaders Sergio Garcia and Australian Marc Leishman, who opened with impressive six-under 66s. Another nine golfers joined Woods at 70, including Nashville's Brandt Snedeker.

It has been said that you can't win the Masters in the first round, but you can lose it with enough loose shots.

Tiger Woods didn't lose the Masters Thursday. He may well be the number one golfer in the world, but until he quenches his long dry spell in the majors, Woods is not back.

The center of his universe has, and always will be, golf's four majors. That's the only marker he identifies with as he hopes one day to pass Jack Nicklaus' record of winning 18 majors.

Woods hasn't won a green jacket in seven years. This is a tournament he won by 12 strokes in 1997, when he was the undisputed king of the sport. It has been almost five years since Woods won a major.

When Tiger was at the top of his game, everyone else was playing for second, or worse. Tiger was in their heads back then. His game was overpowering, intimidating. He would wear his traditional power red golf shirt on Sundays and, Swoosh, those chasing him succumbed to his greatness.

The climate has changed. Fred Couples has a head full of gray hair now, but he still had enough game to shoot 68 Thursday. Veteran Sergio Garcia shared the lead with Australian Marc Leishman, both firing 6-under 66s.

If you believe in golf's World Rankings, Woods leads everyone. Nashville's Brandt Snedeker is No. 5, but missed five weeks with another injury and it will be interesting to see how his injury holds up if he has to go four rounds under this type pressure.

They are the only two Americans in the top seven World Rankings. The 29-year-old Leishman is currently No. 108 in the World Rankings. He has 113 PGA Tour events under his belt, but has only one career win.

With Augusta National's legendary slick greens slow and receptive Thursday and rain expected to hit the area Thursday night, it would bring more golfers into play to win the season's first major.

Phil Mickelson predicted that if the greens don't firm up, Augusta National's course will turn into a birdie-fest.

And lest we write Woods off after one round, I remind you in three of the four Masters tournaments that he won, he had opening rounds of 70.

So while the field should hold an upper hand over one golfer, that one golfer has shown he can get on a roll no one can stop. If the putts drop for Woods the next three rounds, and his fist starts pumping, the field is in trouble.

Again, Tiger has to prove his life and his game are in harmony. There is a lot of golf left this week.

So, whom do you like? Tiger, or the field?

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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