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Woods replaces McIlroy as Masters favourite

Tiger Woods is the new Masters favourite. Photo by Kenneth E. Dennis / kendennisphoto.comTiger Woods’ 75th career victory was enough to convince the bookies that the 14-time major winner is more likely to win this year’s Masters than Rory McIlroy.

World No 1 McIlroy was the favourite for Augusta until Woods cruised to a four-stroke win over Brandt Snedeker and Josh Teater in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines near San Diego. Final scores

Now the 5-1 favourite for the Masters ahead of McIlroy (6/1), Woods also closed the gap on the Holywood star at the top of the world rankings, raising the possibility that the American could regain the No 1 spot in April.

Asked if catching McIlroy at No 1 was a goal now, Woods (transcript) said predictably:

“That happens through a product of winning golf tournaments.  That’s how I got there in the first place.  That’s how he got there.  It’s winning golf tournaments, being consistent.  Your bad weeks are going to be Top 10s, and when you win, you win.  And you’ve got to be consistently winning. That’s how I got there.  As I said, and in order for me to get back there, that’s what I have to do, and this is a nice start.”

The opening lines of US news agency reports perfectly summed up Woods’ eighth PGA Tour win at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, the course where he won the US Open on a broken leg for the most recent of his 14 major wins in 2008:

“Tiger Woods was so good for so long at Torrey Pines that it didn’t matter how shaky it looked at the end.  In a finish that was fitting for such a long and exasperating week, Woods built an eight-shot lead with five holes to play on Monday until he lost patience with the slow play and started losing shots that only determined the margin of victory.  Despite two bogeys and a double bogey in the final hour, he closed with an even-par 72 for a four-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open. The win lifts the two-time FedExCup champion to No. 4 in the 2013 race.  “I’m excited the way I played all week,” Woods said. “I hit the ball well — pretty much did everything well and built myself a nice little cushion. I had some mistakes at the end, but all my good play before that allowed me to afford those mistakes.”

Not even the excruciatingly slow pace of play could stop Woods this time. As Geoff Shackelford reported:

“It took the Woods threesome 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete their final 11 holes playing behind Erik Compton, Brad Fritsch and Steve Marino who were more than a hole behind by the end.

The 2008 U.S. Open playoff between Woods and Rocco Mediate was 19 holes and took 4 hours and 33 minutes. And they took their sweet time that day!

Asked if he was “back” Woods reverted to his stock phrase: “Never left.”

Q.  Are you going to quote that LL Cool J?

TIGER WOODS:  Absolutely.  I’m surprised you actually remember that one (laughing).

Following Woods’ latest win, the spotlight will now focus on McIlroy, who missed the cut in his first outing as a Nike player in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. Woods also missed the cut there but quickly silenced any muttering about his game.

McIlroy must now ignore the media noise for another three weeks before he returns to action in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson.

As for the world rankings, Woods cut McIlroy’s lead at the top from 4.208 to 3.144 pts while Graeme McDowell fell one spot to 18th.

Pádraig Harrington, who makes his debut in the Waste Management Open in Phoenix this week, dropped two spots to No 52 while Shane Lowry slipped three places to 62nd.

Harrington was pleased with his form on the greens in his first two outings of the season in South Africa and Abu Dhabi and kicks off a four-week run with his confidence sky high.

Asked by Newstalk recently if we could expect a bumper year from him this season, Harrington said: “I putted really well for the first two weeks of the year and that let me down last year. So if I can putt like I putted the first two weeks of the year, and play golf like I played from tee to green last year, yes, I can see my next peak coming around… The peaks will always be very sweet and I can tell you that the next one will be very sweet for me.”

Lowry, meanwhile, could do with a good week in Dubai having missed the cut on his last start in Abu Dhabi.

The Clara man is feeling the heat as he is constantly asked about his bid to make the world’s top 50 by the end of March to secure his Masters debut. But after working hard with coach Neil Manchip recently, his game should be in good shape in the desert, where he is joined by Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, Damien McGrane, Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie and Gareth Maybin.

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