Not since he stunned the world as a 21-year-old has Tiger Woods been so unfancied to win a golf tournament. That is the opinion of the bookmakers, who have the former world No 1 as a 14-1 shot to prevail here at the Accenture Match Play Championship. It happens to be the longest price on Woods for 14 years and more than 250 events.
Woods was 16-1 when he ran away with the 1997 Masters. What he would give for a little of that magic as he heads into tomorrow's first round against Thomas Bjorn, who made a rousing return to form in Qatar three weeks ago. And even if Woods sees him off then the winner of Geoff Ogilvy, the two-time champion, and Padraig Harrington, the three-time champion, awaits.
The draw is just one of the reasons for the odds quoted by Ladbrokes yesterday and they are surely not the worst tool by which to gauge the current shape of Woods's game and, indeed, his standing as he tries to rebuild his life and his swing in the wake of last year's sex scandal. But then, at least one of his exes still has faith in Woods. Hank Haney, the coach who ditched him last May, has tipped his former pupil to end the longest losing run of his professional career this week.
Anyone who watched Woods fade away at the Desert Classic in Dubai 10 days ago, just like he had disappeared off the leaderboard at his season opener in San Diego a fortnight before, will doubt whether his game – or psyche – can cope with five days of gruelling knockout, in the event which features 63 of the world's top 64 players.
But Haney has heard reports from John Cook, the veteran pro, and is convinced the time is nigh to shrug off a 15-month, 17-tournament blank. "John said it all clicked for Tiger on Monday with his swing," tweeted the Texan, under whom Woods won six majors. "I remember when that happened with me. He should win next week. A lot of times people believe what they hope for, but John Cook should know 'great' when he sees it."
Woods has overhauled his swing under his new coach, Sean Foley, and, up to now, has been plagued by inconsistency. But Cook played a practice round with his neighbour at Isleworth last Tuesday, the day after Woods had arrived back from Dubai at 6am and gone straight to the range to work with Foley. Apparently, this particular devotion to duty is paying off.
It will need to, as up against him is a quality field crammed with quality Britons, including the world No 1 Lee Westwood, the defending champion Ian Poulter, and the two-time finalist Paul Casey. Indeed, six of the top 12 seeds are from the UK, with the No 2 seed Martin Kaymer making the European challenge stronger than ever.