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For the second straight year, Tiger Woods heads into the Masters as the odds-on favorite to win the green jacket. In 2012, Woods finished five strokes over par, 15 strokes back and tied for 40th place.
Will he deliver this time?
"Tiger said it best earlier this week when he said he was comfortable with every aspect of his game. If he says he's comfortable, I believe him," said Jay Coffin, editor of GolfChannel.com. "There is nothing that I've seen this year that makes me believe he's not ready to make a valiant run this week for his fifth green jacket."
Woods begins that run at 10:45 a.m. ET Thursday when he tees off at Augusta National, beginning the four-day quest for his fifth Masters title.
But Coffin isn't quite ready to measure Woods for a fitting just yet — after all, it's been eight long years and one dramatic chip-in since he last won at Augusta.
From his historic victory at the 1997 Masters until the night he drove his car into a tree and then a fire hydrant while fleeing his home following an argument with his then-wife Elin Nordegren, Woods never went more than two years without winning a Major. It's now been almost five years.
On Nov. 25, 2009, the National Inquirer ran a story alleging that Woods had an extramarital affair with a New York City nightclub manager. Over the next 10 weeks, his personal life began to unravel in a most public fashion.
A parade of women more than a dozen strong came forward with all manner of lurid claims, and Woods was forced to apologize, ultimately holding a televised press conference during which he admitted, "I was unfaithful, I had affairs and I cheated. What I did was unacceptable," and announced that he was stepping away from the game indefinitely.
"Indefinitely" turned out to be until April 8, at the 2010 Masters, where he shot better than par for all four rounds, but finished tied for fourth, five strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson. In 2011, Woods again tied for fourth at Augusta, but missed the next two Majors with injuries to his knee and Achilles heel, before failing to make the cut at the PGA Championship.
Between the collapse of his marriage, public image and ailing health, Woods looked human for the first time in his career. For years his mere presence on a golf course had made opponents wilt -- he won 49 of 53 tournaments when leading after three rounds. Suddenly he was human, and his fellow golfers were no longer chasing him—they were beating him.
But things are different now. Woods is coming off 2-stroke victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational three weeks ago, is again the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world for the first time in 2 1/2 years. He leads the tour in earnings, with $3.7 million from three wins in five events.
Woods' personal life appears to have stabilized as well. Last month Woods posted on Facebook photos of himself with his new love interest, Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn.
"Lindsey and I have been friends for some time, but over the last few months we have become very close and are now dating," read the caption on one of the photos. "We thank you for your support and for respecting our privacy. We want to continue our relationship, privately, as an ordinary couple and continue to compete as athletes."
But most importantly, Woods says he's healthy.
"I can still practice all day, that's something I wasn't able to do for a few years there," Woods told ESPN on Sunday.
Woods made it clear early in his career that he had his sights set on Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Major tournament wins. In the fall of 2008, that goal seemed a forgone conclusion. Just 32 at the time, he was sitting at 14 Major wins with at least a decade of golf ahead of him.
Now, time is running out.
"This is a big week for Tiger," Coffin said. "Sure, he has an eye on 18 majors, always has. But he needs to worry about major No. 15. If he doesn't win this week it'd be a disappointment. If he does, watch out the rest of the year."