The storyline of The Masters that begins on Thursday should be whether or not Bubba Watson can repeat as champion and win his third green jacket overall.
If not that, it should be whether or not Rory McIlroy can complete his career grand slam. The pride of Ireland already has banked PGA, U.S. Open and British Open championships and you’d think Augusta National would suit his game like a glove with his massive length and towering iron shots that land on greens like a feather.
Instead, 99.9 percent of the golfing universe is going to be fixated on old war horse Tiger Woods, whose last appearance before our eyes resembled that of an every-day chopper who was just hoping to make a par here or there.
Tiger hasn’t played since his flubbing yip-fest on Feb. 5 at the Farmers Open. On that day, he put on a chipping demonstration that was excruciatingly painful to watch. He mercifully pulled out after 11 holes so he wouldn’t hit one of his playing partners with an errant shot, as he was spraying it to all four corners of the compass.
Tiger has been in seclusion for the most part, reportedly working on his game. He’s saying all the right things, such as he’s striking it perfectly just as he did when he was piling up 14 majors and was thought to be a lock to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 by 18. Lately, though, he’d just like to beat the Golden Bear in a head-to-head matchup.
Tiger is hoping to have the last laugh, not have people laugh at how poorly he plays. There are many still out there who believe that the Tiger of old is going to magically reappear and he’s going to be in the final group and atop the leaderboard when the back nine on Sunday rolls around.
Tiger has done so many extraordinary things in golf that it wouldn’t be a surprise to some if it does happen. But I don’t see it. Hitting balls on the range and playing a few holes with his cronies isn’t the same as live competition before massive patrons. Once you get under the gun, there’s the adrenaline rush and the nerves in the hands get tense on the greens — and no greens in the world are more difficult to tame than Augusta’s.
If Tiger is remotely Tiger, he should be able to make the cut just because he turns par-5s into par-4s. Even though Augusta supposedly was “Tiger-proofed” years ago, length is not a problem. Accuracy is. If he starts rattling it around in the pines and knocking the ball into the azaleas, then it is indeed going to be a long two days, because he won’t be around on Sunday sporting his shark-blood red shirt that doesn’t strike fear into opponents like it used to.
It would be great theatre, though, if he could pull off a Nicklaus of 1986, the tournament where the Golden Bear charged back and “Yes Sirred!” his way on the back nine to win his final major at age 46. Tiger in contention on Sunday would send the ratings needle spinning out of control. I would estimate if Tiger is not in play after Friday, the ratings will drop by at least 40 percent. Golf still revolves around Tiger Woods. Even if we’re watching a shell of his former self.