Tiger Woods on path to Masters after “impressive” Doral win, says NBC’s Jimmy Roberts

Warren Little

Tiger Woods is playing at as high a level as he did when he dominated golf, says veteran sports broadcaster Jimmy Roberts.

Tiger Woods all-around game is as solid as it has ever been, according to one seasoned golf watcher who believes the 14-time major winner may turn in a performance for the ages at the Masters in April.

"I’m no expert," famed sports broadcaster and essayist Jimmy Roberts told SBNation on Monday, "but I think Tiger’s playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play....That was a pretty impressive performance this past weekend."

The long-time sports personality spoke with us on a wide range of topics on the eve of the airing of "In Play With Jimmy Roberts," his new monthly story-telling program that will debut on Golf Channel Tuesday night.

With Woods’ convincing two-shot win over old friend and new putting coach Steve Stricker fresh on observers’ minds, Roberts shared his views on the state of the former world No. 1's game, let us know if Strick's really as unassuming as he seems, and suggested Rory McIlroy might be exactly where he ought to be.

As the golf world clamors, yet again, "Is he back? Is he back?" after his wire-to-wire WGC-Cadillac Championship win, Roberts noted that Tiger himself would not pronounce the year a success without at least one major victory. And while Woods has not had such a season since 2008, when he captured his most recent grand slam event, Roberts believes next month offers an excellent chance for Tiger to add No. 15 to his trophy cabinet.

"Just look at his recent history," Roberts suggested. "He won this week at Doral, the fourth time he’s won there. He won earlier this year at Torrey Pines [for] the eighth time, including the [2008] U.S. Open, last year...he won at Bay Hill, where he’s won seven times, and he won at Memorial where he’s won [five] times.

"The point is that he’s playing well at the places he plays well, and where is another place that he has played well? Augusta," Roberts mused. "So I think you’re really going to get a sense of where he is in the continuum of his comeback after they play the Masters."

"The point is that he’s playing well at the places he plays well, and where is another place that he has played well? Augusta," Roberts mused.

Woods may be 2-for-4 in PGA Tour events this season, but Roberts lightly pumped the brakes on anointing Woods the dominant golfer he was during the stardust years between 1999 and 2006, a period that included the Tiger Slam among 13 major wins. He noted, however, that every aspect of his game was clicking.

"He’s putting so well and he controls the distance on his short irons so well and he drove the ball so well and those are all things that he has struggled with at times over the past five years," Roberts said. "He looked as good as I’ve ever seen him look, but it’s two tournaments now. You have to think back to the amount of tournaments he won when he was at his peak; we’re talking six or seven tournaments a year, multiple majors a year. That’s unheard of, that was certainly unprecedented.

"So let’s just wait," Roberts cautioned. "I think we need a larger sampling to see where he is but, he certainly seems to be on a path to being in a very good spot."

About Tiger’s putting and Stricker’s well-publicized tips that may well have cost him the WGC-Cadillac Championship title. Roberts believes Stricker was completely sincere when he said he did not begrudge Woods the honor.

"I think it’s who Steve is," Roberts said. "He was helping a friend."

Noting the "pure irony" of Woods besting his Ryder Cup partner by two measly putts, Roberts averred that Stricker was totally cool with it.

"There are people you could see sitting around the locker room throwing clubs, throwing stuff around the wall," said Roberts, who diplomatically declined to name names. "Steve would not be one of those people."

If anything, Roberts pointed out, Stricker would blame himself for coming in second.

"I’d imagine that Steve would have thought, ‘If I’m bitter about not having won, then I should have played better,’" Roberts offered.

As for McIlroy, the currently top-ranked golfer may have played his way out of an early-season funk with his final-round 65 on Sunday, but Roberts noted that his recent struggles were not out of character for the young Ulsterman.

"If you look at the profile of Rory’s performances in the brief time he’s been around," Roberts said, "it wasn’t like Tiger, who made [142] consecutive cuts."

The pattern for McIlroy, who went through a slump last summer in which he missed three cuts in four events, has been somewhat consistent, Roberts argued.

"He missed [those] cuts and then he came back and won the PGA by a mile, won two of the four FedEx Cup playoff events, was the PGA Tour Player of the Year, and won the Vardon Trophy," Roberts noted. "And this was all in a year when he had seemingly gotten to a point where he couldn’t figure the game out."

The lesson, Roberts said, was to view the game from a wider perspective. After all, the 13-time Emmy Award winner for ESPN and NBC observed, only a "matter of degree" separates those guys from us lowly mortals.

"We have a tendency to judge things in a very short sample. These people are just like us; sometimes they play well, sometimes they don’t," he said. "When Jack Nicklaus struggles, he used to lose the ball to the left. When I struggle, I lose the ball....So everybody struggles."

Even the game’s No. 1 and No. 2 -- though Woods may have skewed everyone’s views on how much the best in the world are allowed to scramble before we push the panic button.

"Tiger kind of ruined our perception of what it’s all about," Roberts said.

The first episode of "In Play With Jimmy Roberts" takes viewers off the beaten path, so there'll be no Tiger or Rory talk. Instead, Roberts tells the story that of an inmate at Attica Correctional Inmate who’s "obsessed" with golf and spends his days painting golf scenes though "he’s never held a club or been on or near a golf course," he said.

Other segments include Rich Lerner taking fans into Arnold Palmer’s warehouse full of golf memorabilia that includes the usual -- you know, 5,000 golf clubs and some tractors -- and a Damon Hack interview with LPGA player Christina Kim, who talks about how she has dealt with depression.

Tune in tonight at 10:30 ET for more.

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