The answer was as simple as the question when Tiger Woods brought his circus to the media centre. Q: Do you expect to win the Masters here this week? A: "Always."
Of course, anything else but an affirmative reply would have raised the eyebrows sufficiently to be concealed by a visor. But if any further evidence was needed – after that stunning last hole at Bay Hill 10 days ago – that Woods had already put his knee construction firmly behind him then his assured performance in front of the press yesterday was surely it.
It certainly was like he had never been away in the fact that he gave precisely nothing away. Not a crumb for his rivals to cling on to, not the first sign of insecurity to titillate hope. In fact, he even went as far as to repeat the statement he made the same time last year. "I know I can do it, I've done it before," he said when pressed on the possibilities of a Grand Slam in '09.
But he did express doubt about one factor this week, that could just derail his challenge for his first major in 10 long months – the weather. The gusts and low temperatures that made it seem more like Asia than Georgia, US, persuaded him to play no more than six holes of practice on Monday and exactly none yesterday. "There's not a lot to learn," he said.
The sun is forecast to come out by the weekend and the bookmakers are saying that so too will the world No 1. At 7-4, Woods is ridiculously short-priced. All of which, was exceedingly good news to Padraig Harrington, a golfing superstar who likes ducking under the radar more than your average Russian submarine captain. The Irishman happens to be aiming for his third successive major here this week but from the level of interest afforded by the Augusta galleries in these first two days of practice, one would be forgiven for suspecting that he is just another regular pro. Of course, Woods, that great stealer of the spotlight, is the principal reason for this outrageous case of under-hype, although, typically Harrington said that is exactly how it should be.
"When you get to the big stage, Tiger is always the top dog," said the reigning Open and USPGA champion. "He deserves the attention with what he's done. But you know, it makes no difference to me. So I'm not too fussed about it. At the end of the day I can go home to Ireland and I can get Tiger Woods-esque attention there."
Not that Harrington would ever want that. One reporter pointed out to Harrington that at times during his Monday practice round fewer than 20 people were watching. But he easily dismissed that. "Do you know why?" he said. "Because I was playing at five o'clock in the evening and it was cold."
He has strenuously tried to dodge the spotlight in the build-up and, as ever is focusing on himself. "I can't be a rival [for Woods] because in the end I'm always fighting with myself," he said. "I don't believe in trying to compete against one individual. I could turn up this week and say: 'I want to beat Tiger Woods. Well maybe I'll beat him by a shot and he finishes 20th and I finish 19th. That's not much good to either of us."
What was beneficial for Harrington, however, was certainly the draw for the first two rounds. A date with Mike Weir and Ryuji Imada was just the low-key beginning he wanted as he focused on continuing his major run. He has had plenty of banter on the ranges regarding his new standing as major monster, not least from Lee Westwood. "What's all this about the Paddy Slam?" asked the Englishman. "Are you starting up wrestling?"
Meanwhile, Woods is paired with Stewart Cink and Jeev Milkha Singh, which also showed a remarkable lack of imagination on behalf of the officials. There was at least one intriguing match-up in the 19-year-old Rory McIlroy making his Masters debut alongside the Japanese 17-year-old. At 23, Anthony Kim will feel like the old man partnering these two wonderkids.
Tee times: The players to follow
9.28 Gary Player (SA), Luke Donald (GB), Stephen Ames (Can).
9.50 Bernhard Langer (Ger), Greg Norman (Aus), Lee Westwood (GB).
10.12 Justin Rose (GB), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Angel Cabrera (Arg).
10.23 Vijay Singh (Fiji), Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Ernie Els (SA).
10.34 Mike Weir (Can), Padraig Harrington (Rep Ire), Ryuji Imada (Japan).
10.45 Phil Mickelson (US), Camilo Villegas (Col), Jim Furyk (US).
10.56 Stuart Appleby (Aus), Oliver Wilson (GB), Sergio Garcia (Sp).
11.29 Tom Watson (US), Ian Poulter (GB), Steve Wilson (US, x).
11.40 Aaron Baddeley (Aus), Bubba Watson (US), Graeme McDowell (GB).
12.46 Ben Crenshaw (US), Paul Casey (GB), Steve Stricker (US).
1.52 Tiger Woods (US), Stewart Cink (US), Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind)
2.03 Anthony Kim (US), Rory McIlroy (GB), Ryo Ishikawa (Japan).
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