Rude: Tiger balances confidence, contentment

Tiger Woods during a Tuesday practice round for the 2013 Masters in Augusta, Ga.

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— For decades some have pondered whether confidence leads to good shots, or vice versa. Tuesday at the Masters, Tiger Woods was presented a different version of chicken-or-egg.

Given that Woods appears happier than he has been in a few years and that he has won six of his last 19 stroke-play starts on the PGA Tour, he was asked whether winning has led to happiness – or the other way around.

“I think it’s just a balance, a balance in life,” said the winner of 14 major championships, none since June 2008. “I think that’s what you’re seeing.”

Woods struck the “balance” chord a few times in his pre-Masters news conference Tuesday – and not with regard to the kind that is necessary in a sound golf swing. The name of Lindsey Vonn, the ski racer who is his new girlfriend, was never brought up. But there were implications when the topic veered toward inner peace.

“I think life is all about having a balance, and trying to find equilibrium and not getting things one way or the other,” Woods said. “And I feel very balanced.”

That is about as close as Woods has gotten to including emotional health as a reason behind his comeback from No. 58 in the world to the top rung again. He has talked about overcoming injuries and a swing overhaul but has stayed away from bringing up his hurdle over the emotional pain caused by self-induced personal problems.

Whatever, Woods clearly is more equipped to win the Masters than at any point since 2005, when he won his fourth and most recent green jacket. Remarkably, he has won none of the last seven Masters and just one of the past 10. But, outside of last year, he has been in the mix, with six consecutive top-6 finishes before 2012.

“I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game,” he said. “I think the wins show that.”

He is quick to say putting has held him back here. Too many three-putts. Not good enough lag putting. As Woods pointed out Tuesday, “You have to make the majority of putts inside 10 feet and you’ve got to be just a great lag putter for the week.”

The good news for Woods is that he is putting well again. He shored up his short game in the offseason, then got a helpful putting lesson from Steve Stricker in early March at Doral. That, coupled with the fact his swing is now grooved and second nature, is why he is winning again at a yesteryear clip.

Woods ranks first on Tour in putting (strokes gained). That’s a far cry from the past three years, when he was no better than 36th in putting and as low as 109th.

The improvement means he again is armed to challenge Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. Woods is 37, but he hardly sounded like someone who thinks he is on the back nine of his golf life. In fact, Woods said Tuesday that he thinks he is in the “middle” of his career.

Middle? He turned professional almost 17 years ago. That means age 53 would represent the back end. It’s possible but, given precedent, hardly likely. Nicklaus won one major after turning 41, that the Masters surprise of 1986.

But then Woods has never been normal.

“It took Jack a while to get to 18, all the way until he was 46 years old,” Woods said. “So there’s plenty of opportunities for me.”

He never has been one to self-sabotage. He might believe he is in the middle of his career, or that could just be a self pump that straight-arms away the sands of an hourglass.

Woods touched on a variety of other topics Tuesday. Like so many others, he seems to try harder to give thoughtful or playful answers when on the big stage of a Masters interview room.

• On whether he went over to see the spot on No. 10 from which Bubba Watson hit his spectacular shot in last year’s Masters: “No, I haven’t looked over there. Don’t want to be over there.”

• On playing a Monday practice round with 14-year-old Tianlang Guan of China, the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion: “I mean, this kid can’t play high school golf. He’s not in high school yet. So it’s hard to believe (he’s in the Masters).”

• On what he and Guan talked about: “He asked a lot of game questions, whether it’s what am I doing in my game, or a strategy on the golf course, practice, playing. And I was asking him about school and stuff like that. What classes are you taking?”

• On the difference in playing Augusta National now versus the late 1990s: “(Veterans would) school me on how to hit shots with a 7-iron through 4-iron, what spins, what angles, how to roll my hands, how to hold the face, all these different things. We don’t play those shots here anymore. The grass is too thick, too lush. So it’s a much different game. Guys are bringing out 64- and 62-degree wedges this week, just for this week, because of how lush and dense it is. It’s just sticky around the greens. It’s so different than what we used to do.”

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