AUGUSTA -- There are plenty of good memories every year for Tiger Woods when he returns to Augusta National Golf Club, and he is counting on those to overcome the struggles in his game in the past year.
Woods has won the Masters four times, the most recent coming in 2005, and he has finished in the top six the past five years. But Woods hasnt won a tournament at all in more than a year as he tries to get his game back on track after his well-documented personal problems.
My whole idea is to try to win the golf tournament, and thats what Im trying to do, Woods said Tuesday. My whole idea is to prepare. Ive prepared all year to peak four times a year, and that has not changed. Thats what Im trying to do.
Woods, who has won 14 major tournament titles, has once again focused the early portion of his season on playing well this week.
He practiced at the course March 28 and then returned Saturday and Sunday to get in more work. He said the course is playing long and described the fairways as lush and the greens as absolutely perfect.
Woods finished tied for fourth last year in his first tournament back after a long hiatus following his problems away from the course.
Im just looking forward to this week, Woods said. Last year was last year, and this year is this year. I have the same opportunity as everybody else. My main focus is to get ready and be prepared and come the first tee shot, be all cylinders go.
But for the first time in a long time Woods is not the favorite entering the Masters. That spot this year goes to Phil Mickelson, who enters the tournament as the defending champion.
Mickelson also has plenty of momentum after winning last week in Houston, but he downplayed his role of favorite.
I certainly enjoy this place and have enjoyed it and have felt great on this golf course even before I won here, said Mickelson, who has won the Masters three times. I felt like it was a course I could play well on and really enjoy playing it every year. Its something that Ive just come to love with all my heart and appreciate how great this place is, how special this place is to the game of golf.
Woods and Mickelson certainly have been special at Augusta National for some time.
The games two biggest names have combined to win the tournament seven times since 1997. But Woods off-the-course problems have coincided with a swing change, and that has led to his long winless drought.
Still, he doesnt seem concerned.
I felt that taking a step back, or sometimes even two steps back, theres nothing wrong with that if Im going to make three, four, five steps forward and becoming better in the end, Woods said. Ill sacrifice that for a bit, knowing that itll become better.
If you at my track record, thats exactly whats happened. So its been, I think its been good. Ive got 14 (majors). Cant be that bad.