Tiger Woods may have the last laugh

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WHAT can you say about Tiger Woods?

Three convincing tournament wins, back to World No. 1 and his intimidation factor well and truly restored, it’s been quite a year so far for him.

Woods thrives on competition and a challenge. That’s exactly what he got when Rory McIlroy went to the top of the rankings.

Tiger fended off the likes of Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els a decade ago.

Now he’s ready to tackle Rory and the next generation.

He looks leaner, stronger and has worked hard on his game. He’s also more confident and believes in the swing changes coach Sean Foley has introduced.

He has a safe shot onto the fairway with his three-wood, and he’s hitting left to right irons, making control so much easier. His short game has always been superb, so with all these elements in working order, no-one can stop him.

That was the case at Bay Hill and Doral in the last few weeks, where he holed putt after putt.

It’s five years since he last won a Major and it feels like he’s saying to the likes of Lee Westwood and Luke Donald ‘You’ve had your chance, now I’m back’.

This is a new phase of Tiger’s career, where he can once again attack Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors, starting at Augusta.

At this stage The Masters looks his to lose. There will be more added pressure, but that will come from himself, not from the rest of the field.

And, don’t forget, all his rivals are desperate to win a Green Jacket. They’ll feel the heat too.

So it’s significant Rory has just added this week’s Texas Open to his schedule to try to find some form.

But if ever there was a course that suits Tiger, it’s Augusta.

It’s generous off the tee, with hardly any rough to speak of but with fast, undulating greens. That plays to his advantage.

Most players view the last nine holes as real pressure when in contention. Tiger looks forward to it.

It’s a subtle difference but it explains why he has only lost one lead going into the final round of a Major.

Opponents know he won’t back off and that frightens them and forces them into mistakes. His life off the course is now more settled, too, after he went public about his relationship with American skier Lindsey Vonn (below).

So it’s no surprise that his game has gone up a level.

Most golfers need a settled personal life to thrive on the course. This is such a difficult and demanding sport you need a strong wife or girlfriend behind you.

It amazed me that Tiger could be so deceitful off the course, yet still remain so good on it for a period.

However, his return to the top is one of sport’s great turnarounds and it’s great for golf.

It’s now up to the rest of the field to try to match him.

Don’t be surprised if Tiger has the last laugh!