GEORGIA - An intimidating mystique still surrounds Tiger Woods, entering the Masters this week even after an eight-month lay-off for left knee surgery that had rivals flirting with his world number one ranking.
Ten months after hobbling his way to victory at the US Open and two weeks after a dramatic 72nd-hole putt to win the PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational, the 33-year-old superstar tees off tomorrow in the first major of his comeback.
"Obviously Tiger, when he needs to step up, he does it," 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson said. "It's impressive to watch."
Woods has won 14 major titles, four shy of matching boyhood idol Jack Nicklaus' all-time record, and sinking the tense 15-foot putt last week for his first triumph since the injury showed Woods is in top form after rehabilitation.
"He's the greatest player of all time, arguably he or Jack, and he will get back to that level," two-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson said.
Spain's Sergio Garcia says Woods can sink putts simply through the force of his indomitable will.
Woods plays down the intimidation factor even though he always wears red when in the title hunt on Sundays.
"I'm in the wrong position to answer that one because I'm actually out there competing. I'm trying to beat them just how they're trying to beat me," Woods said.
"It doesn't change. It's just about being there and somehow timing it right and making putts and pulling off shots at the right time."
With Woods' popularity driving television deals and viewership, sponsor support and huge prize money, some rivals have called his return an economic stimulus for golf.
"I don't know about that, but it is nice to have the players say nice things like that," Woods said. - Sapa-AFP