Masters 2018: Jordan Spieth confident he's the man to beat at Augusta

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LONDON -- [Jordan Spieth] has enjoyed his four visits to Augusta, registering two second-placed finishes to go with his 2015 victory. And looking for a first win since memorably becoming Open champion last summer the 24-year-old said he is close to playing at his best, with the year's first major just two day's away.

"I've made some big strides from my past couple of tournaments. I'm very excited for what (the Masters) holds," Spieth said. "I'll try to nail it in the next few days and try a little speed control at Augusta and hopefully I'll have a chance at the weekend."

A season's best finish of tied-third at the Houston Open on Sunday, illustrated the reason behind Spieth's growing confidence. Added to that his natural affinity with the fabled course and the reasons for his optimism are not hard to find.

He will, however, face stiff competition as he fights to get his hands on a second green jacket. Multiple major winners Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson plus 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas have won Masters tune-up events and Tiger Woods is back prowling the fairways once again.

After registering two top-five finishes just three months after returning from back surgery the 14-time major winner will try for a fifth green jacket after his fourth back operation.

"I'm just there to win," Woods said in a posting on his website earlier this week.

"I've been better with each week I've competed. A little more crisp. I'm starting to put the pieces together."

Woods missed his third Masters in four years last year after spinal fusion surgery, but has looked close to his best at the recent the Arnold Palmer Invitational and second at the Valspar Championship.

Woods, who at a low point doubted he would ever play competitive golf again, has seen interest in his comeback tale at age 42 send resale prices for Masters badges soaring several thousand dollars above face value. He has not won a major since the 2008 US Open, has not won a tournament since the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational, has not played in a major since missing the cut at the 2015 PGA Championship and last won the Masters in 2005.

A streak of 12 rounds at par or better has shown Woods has regained his health. This week will tell if he has found the form that made him a global superstar.

"It's a lot different than the first two comebacks. He wasn't ready," said Australia's Jason Day. "He came back too soon. Now he's hitting it longer than before."

That's part of the reason some oddsmakers have made Woods the tournament favorite.

"That's kind of funny," Woods said. "Six months ago the odds were I wasn't even going to play."

Woods played two nine-hole practice rounds two weeks ago at Augusta National, his first at the course since the final round in 2015.

"They resurfaced a few of the greens but they still look they have been there for 100 years," Woods said. "My yardage book was basically the same."

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