Tiger Woods looked back to his awesome best when taking last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational and has been installed as favourite for the Masters. The US star seems quietly confident of winning another Green Jacket so can he make it major number 15 or will it be another false dawn?
Woods’ fall from grace both on and off the course has been well-documented and there will probably be further revelations when a book by his former swing coach, Hank Haney, comes out.
But all he can do is take care of matters on the course and that is exactly what he did at Bay Hill on Sunday, winning the prestigious event for the seventh time to set himself up nicely for another tilt at Augusta glory.
It has been a strange couple of years on the PGA Tour and in the majors as Woods has not been a factor and there have been a plethora of different winners.
Many top stars have spoken of the ‘need’ to have Tiger on the circuit and back to his best, but secretly they will have been happy to see their own star’s rise in his absence. But he looks the man to beat once again after his stellar display in Florida and everyone else will have to raise their game accordingly.
However, the rest of the field are not without hope as Woods has looked good at times over the past few months only to slip away at the business end of events.
He would have won in Adu Dhabi but for a below-par final round, while a final-round 62 at the Honda Classic showed that the old magic is still there – but it was too late to catch Rory McIlroy.
Consistency had been the problem for the Florida resident but he overcame that last week to record his 72nd PGA victory.
Putting has always been key to his success and many of his 14 major triumphs were down to his ability to knock in a 20-footer when it mattered. That part of his game has fallen away over the past 18 months and he has been very inconsistent from around the 10 foot mark.
But that all changed last week and, with his iron play looking as good as ever, the ingredients appear to be there for another period of sustained success.
The one negative factor is the state of his body and, despite making all the right noises about his Achilles being fine, he was limping slightly towards the end of his final round on Sunday and that will be a concern ahead of the Georgia showpiece.
He walked off the course during the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship but it unlikely to do the same unless he is in severe pain, having won the 2008 US Open with a broken leg.
The scene is set for a titanic showdown between Woods and McIlroy, and the Northern Irishman definitely has the game to challenge the four-time Masters champion.
Ever since the US Open champion elevated his game to a new level, the golfing public have been desperate to see the heir apparent to Woods’ throne take him on in one of the big-four events and they may be about to get their wish.
McIlroy is in the form of his life and, if things go to plan, there is every reason to believe that the duo will be involved on the back nine come the final round of the event.
There are other leading contenders, with Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose an English trio all with major ambitions.
Westwood is playing this week’s Houston Open to fine-tune his game ahead of the trip to Augusta National, while the other leading lights take the week off (Westwood 10/1f – Tournament Outright).
Woods is also staying away from tournament golf but will be working as hard as ever to iron out any little faults he has ahead of the big one.
It should be a cracking tournament and one that could signal the start of a new era in the sport – but will it be the second coming of Woods of the further emergence of McIlroy?