This is Masters week, and there can be no arguments made that it isn’t one of the top five events in all of sports. The U.S. Open can say what it wants. The British Open can say what it wants. This is the most prestigious of the kazillion golf tournaments played every year. This is an event that draws interest outside the sport’s usual fan base. This is a very big deal.
This is also Masters week without Tiger Woods, the first one of those in 20 years. And while the presence of Woods, especially when he’s playing well, adds something to any event, the idea that the tournament is somehow lessened this year because he isn’t playing is worthy of a simple, one-word response.
Or if you want to go to two words, get serious.
Or if you want to stretch it to three, big daggone deal.
No disrespect to Woods. It doesn’t matter what you think of him personally after his much-publicized travails of the past few years or what you think of him professionally. He remains easily one of the biggest names in the game and a strong case can be made that he’s the best golfer ever.
But even if he was healthy and at the top of his game, his absence shouldn’t detract from the Masters being the Masters. The tournament will go on, and go on quite well. It figures to be a tremendous weekend of golf, even with an injured Tiger watching like so many of the rest of us.
Here’s a flash: They’ve played a lot of Masters without Tiger and it didn’t earn its spot as a highlight of the sporting calendar because of him. They played the first one in 1934 and, with the exception of a three-year break during World War II, they’ve played it every year since. Chances are they’ll continue doing so, long after Woods has retired.
Some of us are old enough to remember plenty of Masters highlights that don’t include Woods.
How about 1987, when Larry Mize chipped in from way off the green to win and break Greg Norman’s heart on the second hole of a playoff. Many forget that the late, great Seve Ballesteros was also in that playoff but eliminated a hole earlier.
Or a year earlier? Jack Nicklaus won for the sixth time, 23 years after winning his first. Nicklaus won the tournament in the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. Use that in your argument for Nicklaus being atop the all-time greats list ahead of Woods. Tiger won his first in 1997, and won again in 2001, 2002 and 2005. But not since. Let’s see if he can snag a green jacket, the coveted winner’s prize, at 46 like Nicklaus did. Nicklaus’ performance in 1986 is one of the greatest in sports.
Let’s go to 1989, where Scott Hoch had a short putt that would have been an “in the leather” gimme in a friendly round. Except he missed it and lost to Nick Faldo in a playoff. Faldo defended his title in 1990 and then won again in 1996 when Greg Norman kicked away a six-shot lead in the final round. Norman is still looking for his first Masters title.
An early sports memory is from the 1968 Masters, won by Bob Goalby after Roberto DeVicenzo lost a stroke (and therefore missed a playoff) for signing an incorrect scorecard. The rule says if you sign for a lower score, you are disqualified. If you sign for a higher score, that’s your score. “What a stupid I am,” DeVicenzo said afterward.
It was the only major championship of Goalby’s career and it was hardly a fluke despite the scorecard flap. He may have won it in a playoff anyway and he sure earned a spot there. He birdied the 13th and 14th holes and then eagled 15 on his way to a final-round 66.
We could go on and on. You get the point. This event was great before Tigers. It will be great after Tiger. And it will be great without Tiger this weekend.
One of the very few regrets of a professional lifetime spent covering sports is never having attended the Masters. It is one of two items on the “to cover” bucket list that hasn’t been crossed off. The other is the Kentucky Derby. But not having seen a Masters live or covered one hasn’t dimmed the appreciation for the event being what it is — a can’t-miss date on the sports calendar every single year.
This year is no exception. Tiger can bring the chips and dip to go along with the food and beverages that will already be on hand. He can pull up a chair and enjoy watching an event that isn’t dulled in the slightest by his absence.
Maybe he has it in him to win another before he’s done, maybe he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter. The Masters will always be huge, regardless of what Tiger Woods is doing that week.
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