Tiger has joined ranks of mere mortals, claims Montgomerie - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Tiger has joined ranks of mere mortals, claims Montgomerie

Not so very long ago the only question was how many he would win by. Now it is whether he will finish in the top five. Tiger Woods continues to dominate the agenda here, no matter how open this Masters is supposed to be.

Of course, there are other storylines as the season's first major tees off today. Will Phil Mickelson add further weight to the theory he is the greatest National specialist since Red Rum? Will the mass of Europeans at the top of the world rankings finally end their Green-Jacketless 12-year run? Will the new generation make dogwood of the old guard?

Very intriguing, yet still the chances – or otherwise – of the most famous man in sport command the spotlight. On Tuesday it was Ian Poulter committing what bizarrely some still see as golfing blasphemy in predicting a top five without Woods. Yesterday Colin Montgomerie contradicted Poulter's view. Said the Scot: "I can see him finishing top five, but not winning." Poor old Tiger. Even when they're sticking up for him, they are writing him off.

But then, Montgomerie's reasoning is difficult to challenge. "Whether he pulls on a fifth Green Jacket or not is now dependent on others – and that is not something we used to say about him at Augusta," said the former Ryder Cup captain, in Georgia commentating for Sky. "For him to win he will probably need other players to perform below their best – particularly Phil and Lee [Westwood], who were both so impressive last year and will be very confident of playing well again. It is a case of, 'Welcome to the world of the mere mortals, Tiger'."

Woods may be a mortal but he does not feel "mere". The 35-year-old has cut an assured figure here and the reports from yesterday's practice round were especially positive. The swing changes he has made with Sean Foley are bedding in and he has faith in the Nike Method putter obliging where his trusty Scotty Cameron has recently let him down. But will he have the consistency? In the 17 fruitless months since the sex scandal broke, Woods has failed to put four rounds together. And if he disappoints on that score yet again then at 11 this will be the longest majorless sequence of his career.

"It will be fascinating to see how he plays this week, because when he finished fourth at the Masters last year it was probably the only time we have seen anything like the real Tiger since he returned after all his troubles," said Montgomerie. "I cannot wait to see how he does on Thursday. If he shoots 75, I think we will all be nodding our heads and saying this is another major he isn't going to win. But if he shoots 67 or 68, then it'll be 'Wow! Now we have a tournament on our hands'."

The thought of Woods up there with his nemesis Mickelson is, indeed, delicious. You have to go back to 1997, the year of Woods' stunning first Green Jacket, for the last time when both the rankings and the betting lists had Mickelson above Woods. So impressive was the defending champion in Houston last week, it would have been scandalous if the left-hander was not rated the favourite. This would be his fourth Masters title in seven years. Mickelson has already made this place his backyard. The rest can be made to look impostors.

But this 40-year-old with arthritis is no certainty. Sunday saw his first win since here last year, making it forgivable to look elsewhere. Britain is faring well in the tipping tables, as the game considers the plausibility of America not holding any of the majors for the first time in 17 years. Martin Kaymer, the world No 1, favours Luke Donald's peerless short-game to prevail, and with the fast and firm conditions it is easy to envisage the Englishman overcoming his short-hitting disadvantage.

The 33-year-old will have to break an infamous Masters curse, after winning the traditional curtain-raising par-three tournament last night. No player has ever won both in the same year. "I'm not superstitious at all," said Donald after his five-under 22. "I'm ready to fly in the face of convention."

Meanwhile, Jose Maria Olazabal sees his winner in last year's runner-up Westwood. "I think Lee has the best chance," said Montgomerie's successor as Europe captain. "I was talking to him on the practice ground and I see a lot of determination and desire in him to finally win this major. I think the near things and the disappointments are only making him stronger."

It is a view shared by Westwood's coach, Pete Cowen, although the world No 2's putting is a concern. Butch Harmon, Mickelson's coach, sees this as his major stumbling block.

"Lee struggles around the greens – although he was leading going into the final round last year – because his short-game lacks imagination," he said. "To win at Augusta you have to have enormous creativity and imagination. When you look at who has been successful, [Jack] Nicklaus won six and [Arnold] Palmer won four times, both were great putters. In the modern era players like [Seve] Ballesteros and Olazabal won two each, Tiger has won four and Phil has won three. These players all have truly great short-games."

It is a withering assessment, countered by Cowen's optimism. "Lee's putting is getting there," he said. "It isn't far away." He also gave a nod to another of his players in Graeme McDowell. "He's very, very confident. He was before winning the US Open last year."

The gritty Ulsterman definitely has the game for Augusta, but could probably do without the circus which will follow a threeball also featuring Woods. Regardless, he has to be in the reckoning, as do three other British representatives in Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Poulter. "The odds [of a UK win] are better than ever before," said Poulter. "I do believe the glory days are close to returning for British golf. There will be a lot of us on the leaderboard this week."

Britain should hope for more than that. Poulter certainly is. "It's time to deliver," he said. At least there's something he and Woods would agree on.

Masters Men: Three to watch at Augusta

The American: Nick Watney 18-1

Must have the best shout of the new breed of Americans. Does not possess the length of Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson, or the flair of Rickie Fowler and Anthony Kim, but in terms of the all-round package is solidity personified. Victory in the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral last month took him to the next level. Resulting confidence will make him a factor.

The European: Luke Donald 20-1

His coach, Pat Goss, says the world No 4 has the best short-game in the world and, while acknowledging Mickelson's genius, it is hard to disagree. The big minus is Donald's lack of length, but the fast and firm conditions should minimise that disadvantage. Finished third here on his debut in 2005 and can, at the very least, contend.

The outsider: Angel Cabrera 135-1

Much of the attention will focus on other former champions, but the burly Argentine's chance should not be discounted. Showed two years ago that he has the perfect game for Augusta and if this rather erratic performer is firing then a third major would be a possibility. Some very wise judges here have snapped up the huge prices.

First round: Selected tee times

(US unless stated; all times BST; * indicates amateur)

13:45 Jonathan Byrd, Ross Fisher (Eng), Sean O'Hair

13:56 Sandy Lyle (Sco), Alex Cejka (Ger), David Chung

14:51 Vijay Singh (Fiji), Tim Clark (SA), Aaron Baddeley (Aus)

15:13 Martin Laird (Sco), Mark Wilson, Bo van Pelt

15:24 Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Rickie Fowler, Jason Day (Aus)

15:35 Mike Weir (Can), Hiroyuki Fujita (Japan), Retief Goosen (SA)

15:57 Padraig Harrington (Irl), Ryo Ishikawa (Japan), Bill Haas

16:19 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Lee Westwood (Eng), Matt Kuchar

16:30 Hunter Mahan, Ernie Els (SA), Francesco Molinari (It)

16:41 Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Robert Allenby (Aus)

16:52 Arjun Atwal (Ind), Sergio Garcia (Sp), Robert Karlsson (Swe)

17:14 Ian Woosnam (Wal), DA Points, Ben Crane

17:47 Angel Cabrera (Arg), Ian Poulter (Eng), David Toms

18:31 Jose-Maria Olazabal (Sp), Davis Love, Lion Kim

18:42 Tom Watson, Ricky Barnes, Jason Bohn

18:53 Fred Couples, Luke Donald (Eng), Steve Stricker

19:04 Anthony Kim, Henrik Stenson (Swe), Steve Marino

19:15 Bubba Watson, Paul Casey (Eng), Edoardo Molinari (It)

19:37 Justin Rose (Eng), KJ Choi (Kor), Louis Oosthuizen (SA)

19:48 Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Peter Uihlein*

Latest betting Mickelson 13-2, Woods 12-1, Westwood 14-1, Donald 20-1, Kaymer 22-1, McIlroy 28-1, Casey 33-1, Kuchar 33-1, McDowell 45-1, Stricker 50-1

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals