PAUL Azinger, the only man to lead the Americans to victory in the last six Ryder Cups, believes a rejuvenated Tiger Woods has opened up a gap on Rory McIlroy and the rest of the world’s top-ranked players as “wide as the Grand Canyon” heading into the year’s first major.
Fifth at Augusta in 1998, Azinger reckons this year’s Masters could prove another victory march for Woods if he produces the putting stats that have earned him three wins already on the PGA Tour and helped him climb above McIlroy to regain the world No 1 spot for the first time since October 2010. “Tiger is the man to beat – absolutely,” Azinger, one of the analysts for ESPN’s US coverage of this week’s event, told The Scotsman. “I still believe there is a wide gap to where the next guy is. In fact, I think the gap between Tiger and the rest is the size of the Grand Canyon again.”
Since missing the cut in his first outing of the season in Abu Dhabi, Woods has almost been unstoppable, coasting to victories in the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami and, most recently, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. “After winning three times already this year, the expectation levels are going to be sky high from the media and also Tiger’s fan base,” added Azinger. “But, if Tiger is on his game, it is over. This year’s Masters is Tiger’s to lose.
“I love the human element of Tiger. He feels pressure like everyone else. He just handles it better than anyone else. His level of concentration is beautiful to watch. If he putts well, he’s unbeatable. No-one has ever putted like Tiger when he’s on form. When it all comes together, the rest can pretty much forget about their chances of winning.”