Years from now, Tiger Woods will know, and so will we.

We will know how many times Woods won the Masters. We will know whether Woods won the green jacket more often than Jack Nicklaus (six), Arnold Palmer (four) or anyone else who ever played the game.Until then, we will watch Woods chase history whenever he returns to Augusta National Golf Club to play in the tournament that is likely to define his career. Watching Woods win last year's Masters by a record 12 strokes, bombing majestic drives over the azaleas and painting a masterpiece on golf's most-revered canvas, left the news media, historians and even competitors debating his future.

Nicklaus predicted Woods could win at least 10 Masters. Unlike the other three majors, the Masters is the closest to utopia for Woods. It is played at the same storied site every year, on a course that features wide fairways, rough less than a quarter-inch high and short par 5's that are tailor-made for Woods' power game.

The challenge for Woods is no longer just to win the Masters, which begins Thursday. Over the course of his career, Woods' challenge will be to master the Masters, to win it more than anyone ever has. A lofty goal, but one that many expect him to achieve.

How does Woods feel when he hears people talk about the possibility of his winning five, six, seven, eight Masters, or more?

He feels confident.

"I know how to win at Augusta National," Woods said two weeks ago at the Players Championship, as he prepared to fine-tune his game for the Masters. "You can do all the preparing you want, but knowing how to win there is a huge advantage. People who haven't won there are still learning.

"I know where to put the ball on that course, things that I didn't know a couple of years ago. My game is suited for the golf course. If I play the way I should, then I should be in contention. If I do the same thing I did last year, then that will be pretty good."

Woods smiled. He smiles a lot whenever he thinks about last year at Augusta. After setting the tournament scoring record (270, 18 under par) and becoming the youngest Masters winner at age 21, Woods has the same feeling Nicklaus and Palmer had at the Masters during their primes. Woods doesn't have to play his best to win at Augusta. Neither did Nicklaus nor Palmer.

"Augusta was sort of my baby," said Palmer, who won four Masters in seven years between 1958 and 1964. "I played it the way I wanted to.

"I think Tiger is very confident. He will win a lot of Masters. The question is, how many, and by how much?"

Woods' performance last year fueled talk that Augusta's design was almost defenseless against his game. He averaged 323 yards a drive, and the lack of rough gave Woods the green light to tee off with little fear of driving into trouble. On the par-4 holes, Woods never used more than a 7-iron for his approach shots. Many times, he used a wedge.

Basically, Woods will face the same inviting layout he overwhelmed last year. How dominant was Woods? He never three-putted. He shot 13-under on the par 5's. And after a shaky start, shooting four over par on his first nine holes, Woods shot a blistering 22 under par over the final 63 holes.

Still, it will be difficult for Woods to duplicate that dominance. Con-sid-er:

- Only two players in history have won back-to-back Masters, Nick Fal-do (1989, 1990) and Nicklaus (1965, 1966).

- The last 13 majors have been won by 13 different players, showing the depth of today's competition.

- Despite Woods' length, Augusta's sloping and lightning-quick greens also put a premium on the short game, which is why shorter hitters such as Ben Crenshaw, Faldo and Berhard Langer have all won Masters during this decade.

Although Woods won the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand in January, he has not won on the PGA Tour since last July's Motorola Western Open. Four times this year, Woods has entered the final round in contention and he has yet to win.



Local players

Aside from former Utah resident Billy Casper - and he won't be a serious contender - no golfers with Utah ties will be playing in this year's Masters golf tournament, which begins Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.

As many as five golfers with Utah ties played as recently as 1993, but lately not many local golfers have been able to qualify for one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world. Provo's Dan Forsman played in four of the previous five Masters but didn't make it this year.

The 66-year-old Casper has a lifetime exemption to the Masters as a former winner in 1970, but he is unlikely to make the 36-hole cut. He tees off at 6:24 a.m. MDT with Charles Coody.