AUGUSTA -- For anyone else, it might have been uncomfortable at best, embarrassing at worst. For Tiger Woods?

Humorous, apparently.

The four-time Masters champion was introduced at his pre-tournament news conference by Augusta National member Rob Johnston, who obviously wanted to make the most of the moment: "If you could permit me to briefly recite a history of (Woods') remarkable accomplishments ..."

Woods never lifted his gaze from the tabletop in front of him as the familiar list rolled on, but the slightest hint of a bemused smile flashed across his lips. Or maybe it was a smirk.

When you're the world's No. 1 player and the prohibitive favorite to win not only this first major of the year, but the sexy bet to win all four majors -- the Grand Slam -- such adulation means either meeting expectations or failing to do so.

"OK, well, looking forward to this week ..." Woods said.

The sporting world arrives at the planet's most renowned azaleas exhibit expecting to see history made this week, or at least begun. Woods, most believe, will notch his 14th major championship and begin contemplating the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, aka his second-favorite venue.

Win or disappoint. Amazing, isn't it?

"Well, it doesn't seem amazing because we have been talking about it -- or (media) have been talking about it -- for four months," 2007 British Open champion Padraig Harrington said, drawing laughter. "We've kind of gotten used to it."

Of course, Tiger brought this on himself. Earlier this year, before his PGA winning streak ended at five (seven worldwide) at Doral's WGC CA Championship, he said that a never-before-accomplished modern slam was "easily within reason," throwing down a gauntlet for his competitors -- and, more importantly, for himself.

"Has anything happened so far to dissuade you from that opinion?" Woods was asked.

"No," he said. Then, after allowing that to sink in, he offered his reasoning.

"You have to understand why I said that, because I've done it before. I've won all four (majors) in a row," he said, referring to his "Tiger Slam" of 2000-01, which he capped by taking his second Masters title.

If you're Woods, it makes perfect sense. "This is my 12th season (as a professional), and nine of those years, I've won five or more tournaments," he said.

"So (I've) just got to win the right four. That's what it boils down to."

The thing is, most of his opponents agree with that logic.

"Tiger Woods (is) the best athlete in the world -- the most dominant athlete in the world playing our sport," said defending Masters champion Zach Johnson, who held off Woods a year ago.

"He's transcending golf; he's bringing it to another level. ... He says he can get better, which is absolutely scary. He's a freak -- in a good way."

Harrington, who won the last major Woods didn't, sees him as a once-in-a-generation (if not lifetime) talent. Not since Jack Nicklaus and, before him, Ben Hogan, has a player had the ability to pull off a Grand Slam, he said.

"There's no question (Woods) moved into that category," Harrington said. "So it should be no surprise to us that they're talking about Tiger winning the Grand Slam. It's definitely possible for him."

But will it happen? As Johnson proved a year ago, Augusta National offers no guarantees.

"I just didn't finish off my rounds last year the way I needed to," Woods said of his 72-72 runner-up finish by two shots. "I made some mistakes on 17 and 18 a couple of days, and that was the difference between winning and losing."

Woods' top competition appears geared up this week to stop a Woods avalanche before it starts.

"I think most of the top guys are playing well this year," Woods said. "Vijay (Singh, the 2000 winner), Phil (Mickelson, winner of two of the past four Masters), Goose (Retief Goosen) is starting to play better, Ernie (Els) ..."

So, slam or no slam?

Mickelson said he considered that opportunity in the past.

"Had I won the (U.S.) Open (in 2006), I probably would've thought about it a little bit," he said.

Lefty, like Tiger, sees it as "possible. I don't think it's an impossible feat. I just think it's going to be a tough one."

A tough one for everyone -- but a "reasonable" expectation for only one.


• Today-Friday, 4 p.m., ESPN (cable channel 25 in Rock Hill)

• Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS (cable channel 5 in Rock Hill)

• Sunday, 2:30 p.m., CBS

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