Woods sports a favorable new look for Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In any of his 14 conquests in major championships, Tiger Woods has never had a goatee like the one he is sporting at Augusta National Golf Club.

Woods joked that he never had a goatee because it always took too long to grow one.

Well, he has had plenty of time to let one grow.

It seems almost incredible that Woods hasn't won a major championship since 2008, since his Monday playoff victory against Rocco Mediate in the 2008 U.S. Open. But it is even more incomprehensible that Woods hasn't won the Masters since 2005.

The player Jack Nicklaus once predicted could win as many green jackets as he and Arnold Palmer combined (10) has been stuck on four since Ben Roethlisberger won his first Super Bowl.

"Obviously, I'm not real happy with the fact that I haven't won more," Woods said. "But the whole idea is to give myself opportunities, and, as of right now, I'm tied for second on the all-time win list here, so that's not too bad, either."

Indeed, despite struggles with his swing changes and the melodrama that enveloped his life off the course, Woods has remained a contender in six of the seven Masters since his most recent victory. He finished second in 2007 and 2008, third in 2006 and fourth in 2010 and 2011.

But, with six victories in the past 13 months, including wins in his past two starts, it would appear both droughts might be ready to come to an end this week at Augusta National.

"I put myself in the mix every year but last year, and that's the misleading part," Woods said Tuesday before playing an afternoon practice round. "It's not like I've been out of there with no chance of winning this championship. I've been there, and unfortunately, just haven't got it done.

"I've made runs to get myself in it. I've been there in the mix on the back nine, [and I've] either not executed, not made enough putts or didn't take care of the par 5s, or whatever it may be."

Woods comes to Augusta National as an overwhelming 2-to-1 favorite, and for good reason. He has won three times in five starts this season and is coming off victories in his past two outings -- Doral and Bay Hill. In that time, he has reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

Curiously, this is the fourth time in his career Woods already has three PGA Tour wins before the Masters. But he didn't win a green jacket in any of the previous years (2000, 2003 and 2008).

"I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game," Woods said. "I feel that I've improved and I've got more consistent, and I think the wins show that. That's something that I'm proud of so far this year, and hopefully I can continue it this week and the rest of the year."

Woods is not just comfortable with his game. He also is comfortable playing at Augusta National, one of seven courses in which he has won four or more tournaments.

Woods has won 28 times on four courses -- Bay Hill (8), Torrey Pines (8), Firestone (7) Muirfield Village (5) -- and four times on three other courses, including Augusta National. That means 40 of his 77 PGA Tour wins have come on seven courses.

"Over the course of my career, there are courses where I didn't really feel that comfortable on, but I've won tournaments on, won major championships on," Woods said. "But it didn't necessarily fit my eye, but you still have to execute.

"There are other golf courses where they really fit my eye and I've had a lot of success on them. So this being one of the golf courses where, over the course of my career, I've won or contended a bunch of times."

Though never with a goatee.

First off

• The initial threesome on the tee at 8 a.m. Thursday at Augusta National will be Sandy Lyle, John Peterson and Pittsburgh amateur Nathan Smith.

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Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published April 10, 2013 4:00 AM


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