AUGUSTA, Ga. — Whether he’s in a tournament or not, Tiger Woods is the 800-pound elephant in the room.
There’s buzz when he’s in a tournament. There is buzz when he’s not.
Woods is missing his first Masters Tournament as a professional this week after undergoing back surgery last week. He also will miss The Players Championship and has targeted an early summer return to the PGA Tour.
The Masters doesn’t need Woods to help sell tickets.
“We miss Tiger, as does the entire golf world,” Augusta National and Masters Chairman Billy Payne said during his annual pre-tournament news conference Wednesday. “Nevertheless, this is the Masters. This is what we hope is the best golf tournament in the world, one of the greatest sporting events, and I think we will have another impressive audience and have another great champion to crown this year.”
Woods last won the tournament in 2005, his fourth victory in a nine-year period. It’s been nine years since that playoff victory over Chris DiMarco and nearly six years since Woods last won a major, at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, the main rival to Woods for years, said it was “weird” and “awkward” to have a Masters Week without Woods.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I hope he gets back soon. I hope he’s back for the other majors and as much as I want to win, and I know how great he is and tough to beat, it makes it special when he’s in the field and you’re able to win.”
Rory McIlroy sided with Payne in believing that Woods’ absence would gradually be forgotten as the week winds on.
“Having Tiger in a tournament definitely creates more of an atmosphere,” he said. “You know where he is on the course just by the crowd. I think people will miss him at the start of the week, but when it comes down to who is going to win the golf tournament, there’s going to be a worthy winner and it will produce a lot of excitement.”
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