We all knew this was bound to happen one of these years, that Augusta National was going to have to make do without one of its most identifiable mainstays.
No, we’re not talking about the Eisenhower Tree, even though that’ll be missed too. But can the folks in those green jackets hold a Masters without Tiger Woods?
We’re going to find out.
It’s something the other three majors have all had to deal with before, and it’s not like they stopped playing them. But it is a first for the season’s first one. There’s every chance that Woods, who had back surgery last week, will miss more in the coming months. And maybe that’s a good thing, for his long-term prospects. We’ll find out. The only thing we know for sure right now is that the Masters won’t be the same, even if someone should be getting an addition to his wardrobe by the time the sun’s going down on Sunday.
It didn’t look like Tiger was going to be a factor, given the way he was playing, which was probably due to his physical issues. Yet ever since his debut in 1995 as an amateur, he’s been the guy here. Phil Mickelson, who’s dealing with an injury of his own, has been 1-A. Like Arnie and Jack in the first half of the 1960s.
Even when Tiger wasn’t winning, which is something he hasn’t done since getting a fourth jacket in 2005, he’s been a serious part of the story line. From 2006-11 he was third, second, second, sixth, fourth and fourth. And in 2010 he was making a return to the game after his off-course implosion/prolonged layoff. He was also fourth last April, when an unfortunate bounce in the second round led to a controversial two-stroke penalty that maybe cost him the tournament. Whatever. The haters are probably celebrating, but I’m sure CBS isn’t.
Wherever your allegiances lie, there’s no denying that Tiger’s absence creates a very unique and pronounced void.
Since Tiger won the last of his 14 majors on one leg at the 2008 U.S. Open, only Mickelson (2010 Masters, 2013 British Open) and Rory McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open, 2012 PGA Championship) have won more than one. The PGA Tour has had 18 different winners in its last 21 events Tiger did win five times last season, when he was Player of the Year once more. Still, he hasn’t fared well on the weekend at a major in forever.
“It’s almost like golf is waiting for somebody to stamp their authority on the game and be that dominant player,” said McIlroy, who looks to be about as likely a candidate as any.
For the record, the previous majors that Tiger missed were won by Irishmen: Padraig Harrington (2008 British and PGA), McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open) and Darren Clarke (2011 British). There’s no asterisks listed next to their names.
Now, about that (Dwight) Eisenhower Tree, which had to be removed earlier this year after being damaged in an ice storm. The 65-foot high Loblolly Pine — located on the left-center of the fairway on the 17th hole, about 210 yards from the tee — was named for the 34th President and longtime Augusta member, who appealed to the club to remove it because he was hitting too many of his drives into it. Three years ago Woods injured his knee and Achilles’ while hitting a shot off the pine straw beneath that tree, which would sideline him for four months.
By the way, you can still get the shirts and even the limited-edition shoes that Tiger would have worn had he teed it up this week. The Nike website has the pink, orange, green and traditional Sunday red (with black stripes) shirts available for $85 to $95. The shoes, which have a green swoosh, are $220. Another tradition unlike many others.
Usually we give you one hole. Not this time. They say the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday, so we’ll go with Nos. 10, 11 and 12, which just happen to be the three that historically have ranked as the toughest to play. Or at least since they started keeping track of that stuff in 1942. Amen Corner refers to 11 through 13, but with apologies to Herbert Warren Wind ...
The 10th is first in degree of difficulty, mainly because it’s almost a short par 5. Yes, it does play downhill away from the practice green/clubhouse, but that’s about the only help you’re going to get. At almost 500 yards it’s the second-longest two-shotter on the grounds. Four of the nine sudden-death playoffs have ended here, including the last two years. This was the original opening hole, until they reversed nines after the inaugural Masters. Maybe the best way to play it is the way Bubba Watson did two years ago in the playoff — drive it into the woods and then just hook a wedge around the trees about 150 yards to within 15 feet or so. Nothing to it.
Four playoffs have also been decided on 11, including Nick Faldo’s back-to-backers a quarter-century ago. The tee shot is also downhill, only this one bends to the right, one of the few holes at Augusta you can say that about. And, at just over 500, it is the longest par 4 here. The approach shot has to be to the right side of the green. Otherwise you bring all the water into play. And who needs that? Of course you can always do what Augusta native Larry Mize did to poor Greg Norman in the ‘87 playoff — miss the green to the right only to hole out an impossible chip shot from 140 feet for the W.
Then there’s the 12th, which is merely the best par-3 in any major. Or maybe anywhere. It only measures 155, or 15 less than the next-shortest hole (16). But the conundrum here is the swirling winds, which have been known to really screw around with club selection. And there’s really no good place to bail out. If you come up even a little bit short the ball almost always rolls back into Rae’s Creek. Unless, of course, you’re Fred Couples, in which case it somehow stops on the slope and you go on to beat Ray Floyd by two in 1992. Tom Weiskopf wasn’t so fortunate. He carded a 13 in 1980.
DID YOU KNOW?
—Before Adam Scott won his first major here last year, Australians had finished second eight times at Augusta: Scott and Jason Day (2011), Greg Norman (1996, ‘87, ‘86), Jack Newton (1980), Bruce Crampton (1972) and Jim Ferrier (1950).
—From 1991-2010 the champion came out of the final Sunday pairing with one exception (Zach Johnson, 2007). The last three years your winner has come out of the next-to-last group (Charl Schwartzel, Bubba Watson, Scott). Johnson played in the second-to-last twosome.
—The third-round leader/co-leader has won this major 41 out of 77 times. But it hasn’t happened since 2009, when Angel Cabrera won. Last year he almost became the second-oldest winner (43 years, 7 months, 2 days), behind only Jack Nicklaus (46/2/23) in 1986.
—Thorbjorn Olesen was the only first-time player to finish in the top 10 in 2013. Only three have ever won, with Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 being the only one to do so since the second Masters.
—Fred Couples made the cut for the 27th time in 29 starts. That tied him with Raymond Floyd for third behind Nicklaus (37) and Gary Player (30).
—China’s Tianlang Guan, the youngest competitor in Masters history (14 years, 5 months, 18 days), became the youngest to make a cut in any major by almost two years (Italy’s Matteo Manassero, 2009 British Open). He tied for 58th, with no double bogeys or three-putts, even though he was penalized a stroke in the second round for slow play. His spot in this year’s field went to Korea’s Chang-woo Lee — who’s five years older — for winning the 2013 Asian-Pacific Am.
—The only Masters champ who wasn’t in the top 10 after 54 holes was Art Wall Jr. in 1959. He was tied for 13th, six behind Stan Leonard and Arnold Palmer, before closing with a 66 to beat Cary Middlecoff by one.
—Last year was the 10th playoff since the sudden-death format was adopted in 1976 (there were six before that, one 36-holer and five of 18). None have gone longer than two holes. Only three have been decided on the first. Nick Faldo (2-0) and Angel Cabrera (1-1) are the only guys that have been involved in more than one. Ben Hogan lost two of the 18-holers (one to Byron Nelson, the other to Sam Snead). There have been playoffs the last two years. The only other time that’s happened was 1989-90, with Faldo winning each.
—Two guys have made three hole-in-ones in Wednesday’s par-3 contest: Gary Player (1983, 1986 and 1993), who never won it, and Ben Crenshaw (1997, 2005, 2013), who was first in 1987. There have been 77 in 39 years. In the tournament there’s been 24. Nobody’s had more than one.
—Eleven have won both the par-3 and green jacket, but none in the same year. Sam Snead and Sandy Lyle are the only ones who won the par-3 twice. The others are Art Wall, Palmer, Gay Brewer, Tom Watson, Tommy Aaron, Crenshaw, Floyd, Vijay Singh and Mark O’Meara. Only Singh won the par-3 before getting a jacket.
Or, trying to sort out most of your usual suspects:
Rory McIlroy (8-1): Probably a matter of when and how often.
Adam Scott (10-1): Haven’t been too many repeaters.
Phil Mickelson (12-1): Anything’s possible any time he drives up Magnolia Lane
Jason Day (15-1): Could have won two of last three years.
Henrik Stenson (16-1): Like Scott, trying to get to No. 1 in world for first time.
Sergio Garcia (20-1): Maybe it’s finally his time, but we’ve said that before.
Dustin Johnson (22-1): Having real good year, could have a couple of majors by now.
Bubba Watson (24-1): Playing well, obviously has what it takes here.
Matt Kuchar (26-1): When was the last time somebody won this after losing a playoff?
Zach Johnson (28-1): The 2007 winner is tough when he gets it going.
Keegan Bradley (30-1): The 2011 PGA champ will probably get a second major sometime.
Angel Cabrera (33-1): Won here in 2009 and almost won again last year.
Brandt Snedeker (35-1): If his putter gets hot he’s a factor.
Justin Rose (40-1): This isn’t Merion.
Jason Dufner (50-1): Nobody wins consecutive majors.
Five others to ponder: Jordan Spieth, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood and Victor Dubuisson.
THE DREADED PICK
I was actually thinking about Sergio Garcia before he went out and did what he just did in Houston. So now I don’t know. Like what else is new? As always I’ll hand out three guys (Last year I had Jason Dufner at the PGA. Forgive me, but I don’t always get to say that.)
I’ll somewhat reluctantly take Rory McIlory, because I’m not usually a chalk man but I think he’ll win this eventually. I’m also liking Dustin Johnson. And since I was thinking Sergio, I’ll put him in my trifecta, just because, even though I’ll likely regret it. Keep in mind this is mostly for comic relief purposes. So please tread carefully. And we’ll see you at the U.S. Open in two months from Pinehurst, where Tiger will likely still be MIA.