PARTSCH: Augusta once again without Tiger’s roar
Managing Editor Raymond Partsch III
I was hoping it was an early April Fools’ Day joke.
This past Friday, four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods announced on his Website that he would not be able to play in this year’s tournament due to his back problems.
“I’m especially upset because it’s a special anniversary for me that’s filled with a lot of great memories. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I won my first green jacket.”
With its azaleas in bloom and towering pine trees lining the fairways to the charming difficulty of Amen Corner to the presentation of the famed green jacket at dusk, golf’s first major tournament held every year at Augusta National Golf Club teed off for the 81st time this week and did so without Woods.
The tournament, and the course designed by legendary golfer Bobby Jones, has always encompassed a unique tradition in the world of golf.
From Arnie’s Army marching through the galleries cheering on their hero to Greg Norman suffering a Sunday heartbreak three times to Phil Mickelson finally breaking through with his first major victory triumph, the tournament has long been referred as “a tradition unlike any other,” which has even now been officially trademarked by the golf club.
But now there is a new more recent tradition that can be associated with The Masters, a tournament that Tiger Woods can no longer play. Woods’s announcement on Friday makes this the third Masters in the past four years that Woods has not played.
Myself, and a generation of other golf fans, were hoping to see Woods back at Augusta this week even if it was only for sentimental reasons.
It was 20 years this week that Woods went out and routed the field by winning The Masters by a record 12 shots and ended up setting 20 tournament records. The victory was his arrival and would kick off an unprecedented amount of flat out domination on the PGA Tour.
Woods would go to win 14 majors (in an 11-year span mind you), including The Masters three more times (the last coming in 2005), holding the top spot on the world golf ranking for what seemed like an eternity, helped usher in a enormous uptick in tournament winnings and sponsorships for the sport, raked in hundreds of millions in spokesperson revenue and helped expand golf to younger generations.
Woods was so dominant that Augusta National was forced to add “Tiger Proof” methods to its own course by lengthening the course by 500 yards and adding acres of trees to make it more challenging.
It didn’t seem that Woods’s reign as the sport’s most prolific competitor would ever end, and it was assumed that Woods would not only pass Jack Nicklaus’s all-time record of 18 majors but would leave that historic mark in the dust.
Yet, here we are and Woods will be watching his favorite tournament from home once again as his streak of not winning a major climbs to 35 straight. His last major win was the 2008 U.S. Open when dealing with a severe knee injury he still memorably defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff.
There hasn’t been a lot to cheer about when it has come to Woods since then.
Woods has only played in six majors since the start of 2014 and has only made the cut in two of those. The last time he was even really a factor at a major was the 2013 Masters when he finished tied for a distant fourth.
The now 41-year-old, who hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since 2013, has not played in months. Woods withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic way back in February, where he shot an opening-round 77 and pulled out because of back spasms. The previous week, he missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego — a tournament mind you he’s won a record eight times.
That U.S. Open victory on one leg is now almost a decade old and with the exception of a brief period of good golf by Woods in 2013, it appears more and more — and none more than his absence this week — that the man who once annihilated the field two decades ago in Georgia is simply no longer part of the game.
His athletic build that he put through rigourous exercise and dietary routines for years, which inspired a generation of physically fit talents like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith, is breaking down at an unforgiving rate.
Woods has had three back surgeries performed on him since 2014. A bad back has ended many a golf career and many a sports career for that matter with the exception maybe being Fred Couples.
The Woods of old could have intimidated the entire field with his launching drives, steady long putts and trademark red shirt Sunday attire. Now he has seemingly become a mortal man, a guy with a dad bod and thinning hair and a back swing that produces a grimace across his face.
That edge Woods always used to have has seemingly been lost as well. The guy who was obsessive about winning and perfecting his swing now seems more docile.
Maybe his body falling apart on him is to blame, maybe his psyche has never recovered from the very public shaming of an infidelity scandal that destroyed his marriage and saw hundreds of millions in endorsement deals vanish.
Or maybe we are to blame by continuing to keep the hope alive that the old Tiger who made us cheer and stand in awe will once again roar and do so again amongst the azal
Those particular roars though haven’t been heard in Augusta in more than a decade, and wishing that they would return is simply foolish. And that’s no joking matter.