But Tiger Woods chooses instead to drift back a mere seven months and 145 miles up the road from Augusta National Golf Club to fuel his tank with enthusiasm.
“I think that winning at East Lake confirmed to me that I could still win again,” Woods said.
That victory last September in the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship had historical significance – Woods joined Sam Snead as the only players to reach 80 PGA Tour victories. Oh, and it put some Bobby Jones flavor into his Masters pursuit this year – East Lake being Jones’ home club and Augusta National being his vision of excellence realized.
Yet Woods made it clear that psychologically, the Tour Championship meant so much more.
“To have gotten in the winner’s circle after the years I’d had (nearly five years since his previous win) … I didn’t know if I would ever get there again,” he said.
That rousing triumph at East Lake is why Woods, now 43 and 22 years removed from the first of his four Green Jackets, has a bounce in his step when he steps onto Augusta National property.
“I know that I can play this golf course,” he said.
As understatements go, that’s a candidate for world champion, because even if Woods hasn’t won any of his last 10 trips to Augusta National, never has he been far away. Since Green Jacket No. 4, the 2005 playoff win over Chris DiMarco, Woods has finished second once, tied for second once, third once, and in a share of fourth four times.
Never has Woods missed the cut in his 19 trips as a professional, and in 15 of those Masters he’s been inside the top 10 through 54 holes. In other words, this place suits him nicely – and he returns the love.
“This is unlike any other golf tournament. The golf course is special. The Tournament (committee) does an incredible job of creating a special atmosphere,” Woods said.
Looking back, Woods knows it’s a different landscape in 2019. Then, length was his greatest weapon.
“The par 5s were all reachable with short irons, (and) the years I drove it well, the longest iron I probably hit into a par 4 would probably be 8-iron,” Woods said. “I had a lot of success.”
Yes, he did. But even if length isn’t quite the advantage it was in his younger years, Woods is quite comfortable, thank you, once he drives down Magnolia Lane. Chalk that up to a priceless commodity – experience.
“Throughout the years, I also accumulated a lot of knowledge, how to play (Augusta National) under different conditions and playing practice rounds with guys who have won here a lot,” he said. “I’ve got a pretty good little library in my head of how to play the golf course.”
His numbers at Augusta National are what you might expect from one with such a power game – Woods is a whopping 156-under on the par 5s in 82 rounds at Augusta National. His resume is equally impressive overall, with only Jack Nicklaus having won more Green Jackets.
Still, Woods knows there is a camp out there that ignores his four wins between 1997-2005 and focuses instead on the empty slate since then. He shrugs, comfortable in his legacy and not feeling he has anything to prove to anyone, just himself.
“I don’t really need to win again,” he said, before adding with a smile: “I really want to.”
Another candidate for world champion understatement.