Tiger Woods, coming off his third win in five PGA Tour events this season, is everybody’s odds-on favorite to slip on his fifth green jacket on April 14, and 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir is one of them.
While a stout field of the planet’s best golfers will give Woods all he can handle in two weeks, Weir believes Tiger’s game is right where he wants it to be heading into the tour’s first major of the year.
"Obviously, he’s got to be the favorite going in there," Weir, who won his only major in a playoff with Len Mattiace, said on a conference call on Wednesday. "He’s shown signs of -- especially his short game; that’s the aspect of your game you have to have around there."
Thanks in large part to that putting lesson from Steve Stricker before beating his new short-game coach by two strokes at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Woods has ascended not only to the No. 1 ranking in golf but also sits atop the tour’s strokes gained-putting category as well.
That statistic, above all, impressed Weir about Woods’ ability to conquer Augusta National.
"I don’t care how good you hit the ball, you have to putt well there," Weir said. "He has to be the favorite going in there."
While Weir boosted Woods to win, the 42-year-old Canadian believes his victory march will be anything but a cakewalk, given the competition from players like Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, and Dustin Johnson.
"It’s such an open tournament now, there’s so many great players in the world, and the separation between everybody is so close," said Weir, who was not around for Woods’ victory at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational after a rib injury forced him to withdraw. "Even though, as well as Tiger’s played this year, I think he knows that there are so many players with power now.
"It will be interesting to see what the drama brings, because there always will be," Weir, who also pulled out of this week’s Shell Houston Open, added. "There will be a lot of guys in the mix come Sunday afternoon. I think it will be a tight tournament this year."
Weir, by the way, said doctors diagnosed his ribs as being "torn or inflamed," but not cracked. A slew of injuries have derailed the eight-time tour winner’s career over the years, but the most recent one will not keep him away from Augusta.
Ranked 211 on this year’s tour money list, Weir’s glory days are behind him as he rests up for the Masters. But nothing -- even if he is unable to get in any meaningful practice due to his sore ribs -- will block him from starting what will be the 10th anniversary of his improbable Augusta victory.
"I’m going to be going no matter what, I’m going to be there, so I have to be really smart here the next week and a half about when I decide to try hitting a few balls," Weir stated. "If I have to not hit any balls until Thursday, I won’t...because I really want to play."