AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – The bookies make him an odds-on favorite like no other, mostly because Tiger Woods is unlike any other. He tees off Thursday on mended knee in pursuit of a fifth Masters title, secure once again with his place in the game and looking as dominant as ever.

His will to win is extraordinary. His fellow players defer to his greatness.

And there’s nothing in golf better than seeing Woods have a putt on Sunday to win.

But there are those who enjoy watching Zach Johnson put on a green jacket, or maybe even harbor secret thoughts of Greg Norman finally burying his demons. Still others want nothing more than to see Phil Mickelson smiling on the 18th green once again.

Not many, maybe, because it can be lonely pulling against arguably the greatest player ever. Family and friends might not understand.

But there are reasons:

HE’S NOT FAN FRIENDLY – Sure, everyone loves Tiger, but why? He doesn’t give autographs, stares straight ahead when walking through crowds, and offers little more than an occasional tip of the hat to acknowledge the throngs following him around the course. Not to mention he curses so loudly after hitting a bad shot that parents have to cover their children’s ears.

Woods may need all of that to maintain his supreme focus, but Arnold Palmer did all right with his career and was still more than willing to shake hands and say a few words to any fan who sought him out.

HIS CADDIE IS A PAIN – Stevie Williams makes more than a million dollars a year to carry Woods’ bag and hand him his clubs. He also comes in handy driving him to the course, and occasionally will help Woods read a putt. But somewhere along the line his job description broadened to becoming Woods’ enforcer on and off the course. His antics include snatching cameras from offending fans and calling Phil Mickelson names, both of which probably earned him a bonus check from his boss.

HE’S TOO PERFECT – Swedish model wife, check. Two cute kids, check. Florida mansion and private jet, check. At a time most of America is struggling, couldn’t Woods throw us a bone and show us he shares our pain by blowing a four-shot lead on the back nine Sunday to lose the Masters?

HE SCARES PEOPLE – Well, not regular people, but his fellow players. Woods is revered, no, make that feared, by the people he plays against, which is the main reason why not even Mickelson has stepped up his game enough to give him a true rival.

HE’S WON ENOUGH – Woods first won the Masters at the age of 21, and has done it three times since. If he wins this week he’ll have five green jackets and be within one win of tying Jack Nicklaus for the most Masters titles ever. Nicklaus would love to keep the record, but remember: It was the Golden Bear himself who predicted after seeing Woods in a practice round in 1996 that the young phenom would win more Masters than him and Palmer combined (10).

HE WON”T PLAY THE PAR-3 – The best player in the world was notable again by his absence Wednesday at the annual Par-3 contest, where players show off their games and families while fans get a chance to interact with them. Asked earlier if he would compete and have daughter, Sam, on the bag, Woods wasted no time turning it down. “I am not, and no,” he said.

HIS CLOTHES CLASH – Actually, Woods is one of the snazzier dressers on tour, thanks to a contract with Nike that guarantees him the latest in golf fashion. He’s also lucky to be dominant in an era where checkered pants and pink tops are a thing of the past – unless you’re Ian Poulter. But another win on Sunday means watching Woods parade around in a red shirt and green jacket that would get him tossed from most decent nightclubs.

HE’S TOO SCRIPTED – Everything about Woods seems like it was pulled from some Hollywood movie of old, like the drama of last year’s U.S. Open, when he hobbled his way down the 18th hole on Sunday and then made a putt to force a playoff he eventually won. His comeback this year from knee surgery was true to form when he made an 18-footer in near darkness to cap a five-stroke comeback and win his last tournament. Nobody can possibly do those kind of things unless they’re drawn up in advance. Unless, of course, the name is Tiger Woods.

YOUTH NEEDS TO BE SERVED – Woods is now 33, a fact that drew a rueful smile from him at his Tuesday press conference. His newest would-be rivals are from another generation, and they grew up idolizing Woods the same way he did Nicklaus. Teenagers Rory McIlroy, Danny Lee and Ryo Ishikawa are in this Masters, and there will come a time that golf needs players like them as much as it needs Woods. Nothing wrong with that time beginning this week on Augusta National.

So, there, Tiger haters. That should be enough to get you through Sunday.

And for the 99 percent of the world that will be rooting for Woods, only one reason is necessary.

Because he is Tiger Woods.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

AP-ES-04-09-09 0414EDT

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