Tiger Woods' road to the 2018 Masters filled with surprising amounts of success
Woods will participate in his first Masters since 2015 and has played twice in March to prepare
It would be foolish to attempt to untangle Tiger Woods and the Masters. His four green jackets are a major marker in his career, and Tiger simply teeing it up at Augusta National -- where he's finished in the top 10 a ludicrous 13 times -- is always a thrill for patrons in attendance and those watching at home. Woods has only played Augusta once since 2013, though: a 2015 appearance where he finished T17 after playing in the third-to-last group with Rory McIlroy.
His path to Augusta at the beginning of 2018 seemed muddy, if not downright complex. Despite a strong showing at his own Hero World Challenge in December 2017, nobody knew if Woods' back, which has kept him out of three of the last four Masters, would hold up. As his year has progressed, though, so has his health and his game. Now it's apparent that he will tee it up this season at Augusta National with a healthy body for the first time in five years. How exciting is that?
Here's a look at where Tiger has been so far this year, what it means for his 2018 Masters appearance and what his trajectory is moving forward.
Farmers Insurance Open (Jan. 25-28)
Finish: T23 -- He narrowly made the cut on Friday with a furious rally, but he showed some toughness on the weekend and climbed a leaderboard that slid backwards for a stunning T23 finish in his first full official PGA Tour tournament since the end of 2015.
Notable stat: Woods only hit 17 fairways on the week, by far the fewest number of any tournament in his career.
Notable quote: Woods noted that he was uncomfortable "having to shoot low scores. These guys are all going low. These guys are all going low and I haven't done that in a long time. I haven't played the tour in a while. I'm looking forward to just kind of progressing, just keep playing, keep playing tournaments and get everything situated heading into April."
Genesis Open (Feb. 15-18)
Finish: Missed Cut -- Woods just does not play Riviera Country Club well. He held it together on the first day, but his putting let him down on the second day and he came undone with a 76.
Notable stat: This was just the 17th missed cut of Woods' career, which is a testament to how consistently great he's been. It also shined a light on how much work there was to do before the Masters.
Notable quote: "I'm both pleased and also not very happy with some parts of it. It's nice to be back competing again and to be able to go out there and play, practice after each round. That's been nice, something I haven't done in years. So, you know, keep building."
Honda Classic (Feb. 22-25)
Finish: 12th -- Woods was tremendous throughout this event. The course and the conditions (very windy) at times took driver out of his hands, which was a good thing. His distance control issues from the Genesis Open looked solved and his putting and short game remained solid. A very encouraging showing from Big Cat.
Notable stat: Woods led the field in proximity to the hole at 29 feet, 3 inches.
Notable quote: "I need to keep playing tournament golf, but I need to keep building on it, keep building my body, keep building towards April. That was the goal when I first came back. I told you guys at Torrey, try and get everything situated for April and I feel like I'm right on track for that."
Valspar Championship (March 8-11)
Notable stat: This was Tiger's best finish in nearly 1,700 days.
Notable quote: "The favorites are guys who always do well there. Jordan has always played well. I'm not going to put it out of the realm if Freddie feels good, he's still in the mix. Bernhard is still in the mix, Phil, myself, Bubba, few others that play well almost every year. We know how to play the golf course. It fits us. So, it's definitely going to be some younger guys out there with a chance playing really well at the time but Augusta is also one of the golf courses it favors the best."
Woods' season thus far has been marked by consistent improvement. He has far more control over his game than I thought he would at any point in 2018. It portends for what should be a fascinating Maters showing, as Jordan Spieth noted during the Valspar Championship.
"I haven't talked to him about [Phil Mickelson's victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship], but I imagine that's got to be pretty interesting for him to see," said Spieth. "It helps put things in perspective in how much time he still really does have for the top level and knowing his self human nature that he's displayed over the last 20 years, it still wouldn't be surprising if comes Masters time he's in the hunt on Sunday.
"That's pretty amazing to say."
Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 15-18)
Notable stat: This was Woods' first back-to-back top five finish since the 2013 Masters and Players.
Notable quote: "Well, if you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Everything was an unknown. I didn't know what I was going to feel like, what I was going to do, what swing I was going to make. Especially Torrey Pines. Was the rough going to be the same pain I was going to feel like I felt last year? I don't know. But coming through that I've gotten a little better, a little bit sharper and I worked my way up there into the leaderboard back-to-back weeks and had a chance, which is nice."
Tiger has now finished in the top 15 in three straight events and has looked crisper and sharper in all facets pretty much every time he's teed it up. Even he has been surprised by how smoothly all of this has gone.
"Could you have expected a body of work better than this starting in December?" he was asked after his T5 at Bay Hill. "No," replied Woods. And now it's on to Augusta.
Up next for Woods, of course, is the Masters (April 5-8). Will he figure out a way to win yet another green jacket? Stick with CBS Sports all week for full coverage of the Masters and Woods' road to what would be a monumental victory.
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