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April 11, 2013

Masters not always kind to favorites

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The first tee shot clattered through a pair of pines on the left side of the 13th fairway, finally landing on the wrong side of Rae’s Creek. Tiger Woods tried again, and this wasn’t any better. Fans peered across the fairway and only heard the ball rifle through some bushes.

“He’s hitting another one,” a man announced from the gallery.

The third shot with a fairway metal caused them to retreat until it turned with a slight draw, clipping a pine branch and settling in the second cut of rough.

Woods played nine holes Wednesday morning in his final tuneup for the Masters, and how he played was of little consequence. Even so, that snapshot from the 13th tee was another reminder how quickly the best plans can fall apart, even for the No. 1 player on top of his game, especially at Augusta National.

Think back to Woods at his absolute best.

He won 10 times in 2000, including three majors, and finished no worse than fifth in 19 of his 22 tournaments worldwide. Going into the Masters, he either won or finished second in 10 of his previous 11 PGA Tour events. It felt as though everyone was playing for second at Augusta that year.

What happened?

Woods made a double bogey and a triple bogey in a span of three holes, shot 75 in the opening round and never caught up.

The hype over Woods is not that strong this year, though there is no doubt who is driving the conversation. Those who have played with him on the course or hit balls next to him on the range talked about how he never missed a shot. His putting has been pure since he got that tip from Steve Stricker last month at Doral. And it shows in the scores. Woods has won his last two tournaments, at Doral and Bay Hill, and neither was terribly close.

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