As Masters traditions go, the Tiger Watch might be about the least treasured of the bunch. And that’s saying a lot when you can rank it below the hotel room rate shakedown or the John Daly yard sale at the Washington Road Hooters.
Wondering whether Tiger Woods will be even able to tie his own shoes let alone tee off at the year’s first major is now the unhappy norm. And here we are again, seven weeks out from another Masters, and it’s nip and tuck whether the five-time champion can make it.
They delayed last year’s Masters until November in order to accommodate COVID. It’s unlikely the green coats would take such a drastic step again to wait for Woods to have a good back day, so don’t waste your time with any petition drives.
Woods was speaking Sunday as the host of the Genesis Invitational.
First off, nobody wants to see Tiger Woods as exclusively the host of a golf tournament — that’s like having Liza Minnelli working as a Broadway usher. He needs to be working on the players’ side of the ropes.
And secondly, he sounded none too upbeat about being ready to take back a club in anger in April.
It was a quick on-air interview with Jim Nantz, the same guy who declared “There it is — a win for the ages,” when Woods won his first Masters in 1997 and then again exclaimed “The return to glory” after Woods tapped in for his stirring 2019 victory. When asked if he’d make it back to Augusta following his latest back surgery, a Christmastime microdiscectomy to relieve nerve pain, the best Woods could offer was a “God, I hope so.”
Hope is never a plan, but it is all Woods has going for him currently. The surgery was the fifth on his troublesome back. Everyone in the world with a bad back may now wince and shake your head knowingly. Back problems are like family problems, they never seem to go away.
“I don’t know what the plan is,” Woods said. “The plan right now is to get through tomorrow and start progressing.” Really, that’s a useful approach for any of us, especially these days. Still, it would be nice to be able to firm up his place in the field of the great American golf tournament.
The November Masters was Woods’ last real competitive outing, the defending champ finishing T-38 on muscle memory. In the calendar year 2020, he played only 34 real tournament rounds, with his best finish a T-9 in the Farmers Insurance Open a year ago January.
Woods indicated he had begun hitting some balls a few weeks after his surgery but offered no clues as to when he could ramp up any serious preparation for a week on the perfectly groomed battlefields of golf.
Some seem to get unduly irked about all the attention Woods commands, whether he’s in shape to play or not. True, at 45, he is not the juggernaut of yore. He may be stuck on his 15 major titles and 82 PGA Tour victories (tied with Sam Snead), well, forevermore. But the people speak every time the ratings spike when he is playing or they storm the ramparts, as when he won the 2018 Tour Championship. So, we’ll likely hang on his every twinge until that day he trades in golf for aqua aerobics.
The fact is, the Masters is better with Woods than without him, and, so, it’s troublesome whenever Gary Player might show up in Augusta more limber than he.
And the game itself is whole lot better with Woods than without him, and it continues to be a struggle to accept that sightings of him actually playing are a rarity along the lines of a meteor shower or a straight flush.
His options to get in some needed tournament prep are dwindling. Woods can’t say whether he’ll be able to make the Arnold Palmer Invitational in two weeks, an event he’s won eight times. That’s followed by the pseudo-major, the Players Championship. Then the Honda Classic and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. That one’s only open to the top 64 ranked players in the world. He’s at No. 50, and falling.
Some normalcy is coming back to the Masters, as it appears once more at its proper place on the calendar and anticipates the return of at least some “patrons.”
And so, too, along with the pimento cheese and skipping balls over the pond at No. 16 during practice rounds, the Tiger Watch resumes.