Commentary

Want the field against Tiger? Call now!

Updated: April 7, 2009, 9:51 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Here's my 2009 Masters deal: I'll take Tiger Woods, and you can take the other 95 dead golfers walking. Call before Tiger's Thursday 1:52 p.m. ET tee time, and I'll even throw in a ShamWow.

You can have Bubba and Boo, Sergio and "Tighty-Whities" Stenson, Rocco and Rory. You can have Lefty. In fact, you can have Righty, too. Take them all.

I know Woods hasn't teed it up in a major since June. I know Augusta National has more teeth than the Osmond family. I know he has won here only once in the past six years. And I don't care.

Did you see him two Sundays ago at Bay Hill? He began the final round 5 strokes behind leader Sean O'Hair. He ended it 1 stroke ahead of everybody else.

O'Hair? They Shop-Vac'd up whatever was left of him.

This will be Woods' 15th Masters. You may think this one will be different because it will be his first major since reconstructive knee surgery nine months ago. But Woods doesn't think like you and me. He's thinking which color slacks he should wear Sunday with his green jacket.

"It feels like a day at any other major championship," Woods said Tuesday. "Only difference is it's been a longer duration between majors for me."

And here's the scary part …

"But the preparation, the feeling that I have right now, it feels the same," Woods said. "I was surprised at how fast I got the feeling; it came back to me at [February's Accenture] Match Play. Like Stevie [Williams, Woods' caddie] says, 'It's just like we haven't left. It feels the same.'

"'Yeah, it feels good, doesn't it? It feels the same.'"

Conservatively speaking, Woods eliminates two-thirds, maybe more, of the Masters competition the minute he drives down Magnolia Drive. The clubhouse attendant in the champions locker room has as much chance of beating Tiger as they do.

By my count, exactly seven players are capable of withstanding the golf gamma rays emitted this week by Planet Tiger. It doesn't mean they're going to win, but at least they won't need barf bags if they're paired with Woods.

The list: Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen, Geoff Ogilvy, Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson. And just to be polite, I'll add Stewart Cink, Tim Clark and Nick Watney.

But that's it. No teen Tiger with an Irish accent (it's Rory McIlroy's first time here). No Luke Donald (always good for at least one mushroom-cloud round). No Anthony Kim (No. 1 on the party-hearty leaderboard, though). No Sergio Garcia (sorry to all those looking for a freebie driver).

Woods will win his fifth green jacket because the timing is perfect. He's healed. He's hungry. He's peaking. The guy is like the azaleas at Augusta National: He blooms every year at this time.

An April ago, he finished second here. The year before that, a T-2. The year before that, a T-3. And before that, his fourth Masters victory. If he had been able to sink a few more putts -- usually a Woods strength -- he would have needed more coat hangers.

There are all sorts of reasons Woods shouldn't win this week. He has played in just three tournaments (and only two of them stroke play) since his ACL reconstruction. By his own admission, his putting at Augusta National lately has been "streaky." And the field, he said, gets deeper each year.

If he were a mere mortal, I'd buy the Tiger-can't-win-here logic. But he just won at Arnold Palmer's tournament. Plus, the only person who knows Augusta National better than Woods is the course superintendent. And maybe Jack Nicklaus.

Confidence isn't a problem. Witness this exchange during his Tuesday presser:

Question: "With the backdrop of the nine-month layoff and having only played three tournaments, can you assess your chances here? Do you expect to win?"

Woods: "Always."

Q: "That's it?"

Woods: "Sorry."

No apologies necessary. That's the thing about Woods. You have to remember he rehabbed his knee, not his golf ego. He never iced his self-assuredness. It never has been a question of if he'll win again, but when, and how often?

Woods doesn't care about Mickelson. He doesn't worry about Ogilvy or Harrington. His opponent is this course, the conditions and, of course, history.

Here's what I mean: Asked about the possibility of winning all four majors this season, Woods didn't pretend it was out of the question. If anything, Woods rules out nothing.

"Well, I know I can do it," he said. "I've done it [though not during one season]. It's hard for me to sit here and tell you that it can't be done, because I've done it before. It's just a matter of winning the right four at the right time. So hopefully it will start this week for me."

It will. Or free ShamWows on me.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter