World number one Tiger Woods of the United States defends his title - and hopes to add another Green Jacket to his wardrobe - when the first major tournament of the year - the Masters - tees off Thursday in Augusta, Georgia. As VOA's David Byrd reports, Woods will have to hold off the best in the game to win his 11th major title.
Woods won the tournament last year by beating compatriot Chris DiMarco in a playoff to take his fourth Masters title. Woods has won three times so far this year - at Dubai, Torrey Pines, and Doral.
Organizers have lengthened the Augusta National golf course by nearly 142 meters, making it the second-longest layout in professional golf. Woods says regardless of the changes it all comes down to accuracy on the undulating greens at Augusta National.
"You have to putt. You have to be able to make putts," he said. "Not only that, you are going to have to make those big important par putts. Because now with the added length and as fast as this golf course is starting to get, you are going to have some putts or some chips that run out. And you got to make those putts."
Fiji's Vijay Singh will challenge Woods for this year's title. Singh has won three major tournaments - including the Masters in 2000. Two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen of South Africa is in the field and is hoping to add the Masters to his two other wins so far this year. Goosen says he is just getting into form after taking some time off at the beginning of the season.
"It took me a while to get back into the swing of things. I feel like I am hitting it quite well right now," he said. "I worked quite hard on my game in the last month, so it is starting to pay off. Hopefully come Sunday again I can give myself a chance here at Augusta."
Woods also has to hold off 2004 winner Phil Mickelson of the United States who is fresh from his 13-stroke victory at the BellSouth Classic last week. The left-handed American fired a 28-under-par to win the tournament in Duluth, Georgia Sunday, but he says Augusta National will test any player.
"It is going to be very difficult," he said. "It is going to be a very tough test of golf now with the changes making it even more difficult. It is a very challenging golf course now."
If Tiger Woods wins this week, he would tie Walter Hagen for second on the all-time list with 11 major victories. That would also put him only seven major victories behind the all-time leader, Hall of Fame golfer Jack Nicklaus.