Tiger begins quest for fifth Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods cringed at the notion Tuesday that this would be his 19th Masters, but also suggested that his career has a long way to go and that plenty of opportunities exist to add to his total of 14 major championships.

Woods, who two weeks ago returned to No. 1 in the world after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his third victory of the year, will begin his quest for a fifth Masters title on Thursday at 10:45 a.m. ET, playing with Luke Donald and Scott Piercy at Augusta National.

"That's one of the neat things about our career -- it's so long," said Woods, 37, who played in his first Masters at age 19 and has never missed the cut as a pro. "We have the opportunity to play basically 30 years solidly at a high level. We have very expansive careers and I feel like I'm basically right in the middle of mine. I have a lot of good years ahead of me, and I'm excited about this week."

And that is made easier by his recent form.

Woods has won his past two starts, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also won the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year and has six victories in the past 13 months, more than any player.

Nonetheless, his 19th start at Augusta?

"Yeah, scary. Coming up on my 20th," Woods said. "I would have never foreseen that when I first came here at 19 years old. It was a bit overwhelming to play here and to be part of the Masters, to stay in the Crow's Nest [for amateurs] and accidentally run into the Champion's Locker Room and all those different things.

"I got to watch Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson tee off on that first hole, Sam Snead. It was just incredible. To be part of that and to see how it's changed over the years, and to have won it. I got lucky. I won my first professional event here. It was nice to be able to do that and I can basically come back here basically for my entire lifetime."

Woods has four victories and 10 top-five finishes in the Masters, but he hasn't won the event since 2005, when he defeated Chris DiMarco in a sudden-death playoff.

Since then, Woods has had six top-6 finishes. Last year he finished tied for 40th, his worst as a pro.

"I've been there, and unfortunately just haven't gotten it done," he said.

This year, Woods has seemingly answered all the questions about his game. His putting has improved, and he's taken care of an issue last year that caused him to struggle with his short irons. He seems to have confidence in his swing under coach Sean Foley.

The next step, of course, is winning a major championship, a drought that will reach five years if he fails to win the Masters. His last major title came at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Last year, Woods was the 36-hole leader at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, but didn't finish in the top 10. His tie for third at the Open Championship was his best in a major since finishing runner-up to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship.

His play on the weekends came under scrutiny in the 2012 majors, and Woods was asked if he felt any extra pressure this time.

"It's still the same," he said. "These are our four biggest events. They are the best events to play in, the toughest conditions, best fields, and the most demanding and challenging. That's what you what. That's the fun part."