The Masters 2011: Is Tiger Woods ever going to win again?

Tiger Woods isn't the favorite to win the Masters 2011. That honor falls to Phil Mickelson. In fact, Tiger Woods may have peaked professionally. This week's Masters golf tournament may be the most critical test of Woods' golf career.

By , Staff

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    Tiger Woods putts on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday, April 6, 2011, in Augusta, Ga.
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Tiger Woods isn't a favorite to win the Masters, which begins today in Augusta, Ga.

That's rare.

In fact, the Masters, which Mr. Woods has won four times, may be where the rest of the world learns what many golfing pundits have concluded: Tiger Woods has peaked.

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Stick a fork in him. He's done.

Two years ago, few doubted that Tiger Woods would surpass Jack Nicklaus's record 18 wins in the four "majors" of professional golf. Woods has 14 now, but it looks like Nicklaus's record will not fall to Tiger Woods.

Woods has not won a major in the past three years. Woods has not won a single golf tournament in 17 months. This season, he's finished only once in the Top 10: at the WGC-Cadillac Championship last month he finished 10th. Woods has slid to No. 7 in the world.

The storm over his serial infidelity and divorce cost him not just his golf game but a string of corporate endorsements: Gillette, Accenture, AT&T Inc, PepsiCo, and Gatorade. Even Golf Digest magazine ended his golfing tips column in February.

While the coverage of his personal travails has faded, his golf game has yet to recover. And he's once more undergoing a self-imposed swing change. In the pursuit of perfection, Woods keeps remaking his golf swing. That may be the biggest flaw in his golf game, his constant tinkering, according to an article in Golf Digest based on interviews with the five golf teachers who have coached Woods.

During the two previous swing makeovers, Woods went through droughts before emerging with a string of victories. Maybe it will happen again.

Maybe.

But even his professional peers no longer tremor in their golf shoes at his presence. This week, Ian Poulter, told the Chicago Tribune that Woods wouldn't even finish in the top five at Augusta.

Woods responded crisply at a press conference: "Poulter's always right, isn't he?"

As ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski wrote: "Memo to the golf gods: Please let Woods and Poulter be paired together Saturday or Sunday."

The Masters favorites this week?

Phil Mickelson is the odds-on favorite. He's got momentum and also plays well at Augusta. He posted a 20-under-par victory last week at the Shell Houston Open. Last year, Mickleson won his third green jacket at Augusta.

Who might contend with Mickelson? Nick Watney has been hot on the PGA tour this year.

"Watney has cracked the Top 10 in five of six tournaments so far and has one win already, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral last month. Watney finished seventh at Augusta last season and this could be his time to break through," said Jack Randall of OddsShark.com.

Other favorites to watch: German Martin Kaymer, the current world's No. 1 ranked player. But Kaymer hasn't played well at Augusta, yet. Dustin Johnson is also playing well this year. And Lee Westwood, who finished just behind Mickleson at Augusta in 2010, has his supporters.

Woods may yet be a contender, too. Woods always plays well at Augusta. Even last year, still in the throes of his downward personal and professional spiral, he managed to finish fourth.

Woods has won all of his majors by going into the final round in the lead. He gets in the lead, and keeps it by not making mistakes in the final round. That's the Tiger Woods of old.

But if Woods doesn't perform well at Augusta, it will be seen as further evidence that that Tiger is no more.

Round One of the Masters will be televised Thursday on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET.

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