On Tiger skipping the Masters

02.05.15 tiger back 1

Billy Horschel picks up Tiger’s tee.

” After assessing the present condition of my back, and consulting with my medical team, I’ve decided it’s prudent to miss this year’s Masters. “

The last time we saw Tiger Woods play golf was nearly eight months ago, and with his announcement yesterday that he still has no timetable to return to competitive golf, it’s impossible to predict when we might see him again and that’s the best possible scenario for not only Tiger, but the game as a whole.

For the last week, I’ve been expecting this announcement just because if you go based on everything Tiger has said up until this point, it made absolutely zero sense for him to play next week. Still though, there was that percentage chance that because he hadn’t said anything definitive and because it’s Tiger, that it was possible we’d see him left of the first fairway on Thursday en route to an opening round 77 and another press conference where he said “I just didn’t make anything.”

The 2016 season has picked up right where 2015 left off, and I can honestly say that I can’t remember being this excited to watch the Masters. The amount of storylines and great players we have in front of us ahead of the first major is insane, from Rory, Spieth and Day battling it out at the top of the world rankings, to former champions like Bubba, Phil and Adam Scott all playing well and that doesn’t even begin to mention guys like Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama and a litany of others that would make this an even longer run-on sentence.

Tiger playing, especially with him obviously being nowhere near healthy, is simply a distraction that the sport and tournament not only doesn’t need, but can’t avoid either. If he was playing, way too much of the focus would be on him, regardless of where he was on the leaderboard. As we saw last night with his announcement, as good as the game is without him, he really is still the pulse of industry even if he’s ranked 472nd in the world and will continue to be that until he decides to hang it up for good.

That’s why it’s important, and positive, that he’s finally decided to listen to his doctors and recover. We’ve all seen him come back too soon or play through injuries and when you combine all of that, plus the fact that he’s 40 years old, you’ve got a guy that is beyond fragile from a physical standpoint. Last year was pretty much an unmitigated disaster for Tiger when you look at his results. He failed to break 80 three times, including an 85 at the Memorial where he’s won eight times, and battled what appeared to be a case of the yips around the greens. For most of the year, he looked like a guy who didn’t belong playing professional golf, let alone like a guy who is the best player many of us have ever watched, but he did have some moments that made us think he was on the right path.

He was in the final few groups on Sunday at Augusta, and the last time we saw him at the Wyndham in August, he was two shots back of the lead heading into the final round. Sure, neither of those tournaments resulted in a win, but they were glimmers of hope in a year filled with utter despair. No one was expecting 2000 Tiger to show up and take over, but maybe we’d see a version of Tiger in his twilight years that would be able to challenge Rory and Jordan a few times each year, which is essentially what we get from Phil Mickelson in 2016.

Then came the news of another surgery, and then another follow-up procedure. He looked and sounded like a completely beaten man when he showed up and did commentary at the Hero World Challenge, but the message that he relayed about following his doctor’s orders and doing absolutely nothing was important. It was a sign that maybe he’s actually come to the realization that he’s not invincible anymore and that if he wants to have that chance to be, or more realistically, challenge the best in the world again, he can’t do it if he’s in constant pain. The Friday night news dump, on April Fool’s Day and six days prior to the start of the tournament, may have been the mentality of the “old Tiger”, but the message behind it is something new.

Ultimately, the best thing for the game would be to see Tiger come back and have another run alongside the newer generation of players. He made the Wyndham appointment viewing last year when he was playing with Tom Hoge, so you can imagine the kind of madness that would ensue if he were able to do that at a major against someone like Rory or Jordan. It’s difficult to see that happening right now, but the only way that it’s even remotely possible is if he can get healthy and the fact that he’s not playing next week is the best possible sign that he’s trying to make that a reality.

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