Tiger Woods began his quest for a fifth Green Jacket at the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club today. The former world No. 1 is considered by many to be the favorite, despite not having won the title since 2005.
The new faith in Woods ending his major drought, that dates back to 2008, has arisen as a result of the 36-year-old's impressive victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill two weeks ago.
And Woods would love his first major victory to come on the hallowed grounds at Augusta after a much-publicized personal and professional crisis that began in late 2009.
I certainly am excited about playing and really looking forward to getting out there and playing, Woods said before the tournament got underway.
And Woods believes his play is as good now, or better than when he first burst onto the scene.
I think I have more shots than in 2000, he said. I'm hitting the ball as consistently day-in, day-out as I did then.
I feel like I'm driving the ball much better than I have. I've got some heat behind it, and it's very straight.
But the 14-time Major winner faces a challenge from a new generation of rivals if he is to start his ascent back to the top of the game by adding to his Green Jacket collection this year.
Foremost among the challengers is Northern Irishman Rory Mcllroy.
The 22-year-old announced himself to the golfing world by playing spectacularly to lead the Masters last year going into the final round. But after carding an 80 on the Sunday, many speculated that the morale-sapping nature of the collapse could haunt his young career.
Yet, in a sign of his extraordinary talent and mental strength, Mcllroy bounced back to win the US Open with a record low score just two months later. And Tiger Woods believes his new rival will be a threat for years to come.
He was playing so well, he just had one bad round, Woods said. He learned from it, applied it and ran away with the US Open. That was some pretty impressive playing.
He has all the makings of being a great champion for a long period of time. He just needs to get more experienced.