AUGUSTA, Ga. - The first tee shot clattered through a pair of pines on the left side of the 13th fairway, finally landing on the wrong side of Rae's Creek. Tiger Woods tried again, and this wasn't any better. Fans peered across the fairway and only heard the ball rifle through some bushes.
"He's hitting another one," a man announced from the gallery.
The third shot with a fairway metal caused them to retreat until it turned with a slight draw, clipping a pine branch and settling in the second cut of rough.
Tiger Woods hits on the 17th fairway during a practice round for the Masters.
Woods played nine holes Wednesday morning in his final tuneup for the Masters, and how he played was of little consequence. Even so, that snapshot from the 13th tee was another reminder how quickly the best plans can fall apart, even for the No. 1 player on top of his game.
Think back to Woods at his absolute best.
He won 10 times in 2000, including three majors, and finished no worse than fifth in 19 of his 22 tournaments worldwide. Going into the Masters, he either won or finished second in 10 of his previous 11 PGA Tour events. It felt as though everyone was playing for second at Augusta that year.
The hype over Woods is not that strong this year, though there is no doubt who is driving the conversation. Those who have played with him on the course or hit balls next to him on the range talked about how he never missed a shot. His putting has been pure since he got that tip from Steve Stricker last month at Doral. And it shows in the scores. Woods has won his last two tournaments, at Doral and Bay Hill, and neither was terribly close.
When the Masters begins today, he is the odds-on favorite to end his five-year drought in the majors.
Trouble is, Augusta National doesn't play favorites.
It has been 11 years since the No. 1 player in the world - Woods - won the Masters.
There is always the usual assortment of players who seem to contend every year for a green jacket. Phil Mickelson is a three-time Masters champion, his most recent in 2010 when he arrived at Augusta National without having come close to winning that year. Fred Couples was tied for the 36-hole lead last year at age 52. Rory McIlroy has shown he can play the course, at least on the weekdays. Lee Westwood has been among the top three twice since 2010.
Woods is annoyed that seven Masters have come and gone since he last sat in Butler Cabin with his green jacket, though he looks at his record and isn't worried. He keeps giving himself chances, and he figures one of these years, everything will fall into place.
And he's still the guy to beat.