Back problems sideline golf’s No. 1 player in golf’s No. 1 event.
Folks at Augusta National are doing their best to get along without Tiger Woods, the most famous golfer on the planet. You hear stories of Billy Payne, chairman of the 365-acre course, walking the emerald grounds at the Masters in a green back brace. The groundskeepers have littered Magnolia Lane with red crepe, though I can’t figure out the significance of red crepe.
I’ll confess I’m no golfer. I appreciate the sport and started to appreciate it even more once Tiger took to the PGA Tour. He always left me with a rooting interest in his sport. He made me love golf, even as I bemoaned my inability to play it.
What I liked, I guess, was watching greatness. He was what I enjoyed about Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Jim Brown, Floyd Mayweather, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and the legion of other Black men who stood at the top of their sport.
I didn’t have to love their public personas, but I found it impossible not to appreciate their gifts.
And Tiger Woods had more of those gifts than any other athlete of his era. He was the most feared golfer to take to the greens since a young Jack Nicklaus. Looking at the leaderboard, I would jump with excitement when I saw Tiger within a handful of strokes of the leader.
Tiger never had to win; he just had to threaten to win, which is why golf fans lined courses across the country to watch his game.
For much of his career, he didn’t disappoint them or me. He was the best there ever was, and some thought he was the best there ever would be.
I’ve come to miss that Tiger Woods. While he’s still ranked No. 1 in the world, Tiger, now 38, isn’t the indomitable force he was five years ago. His name atop the leaderboard doesn’t frighten people, because who fears someone who can’t win the big-time tournaments anymore?
I heard one writer call him “compelling.” He called Tiger “polarizing.” But he also said no golfer was “more watchable.”
All of that used to be true.
His absence makes the 2014 Masters unwatchable. For the event has no personality who can keep us glued to the TV.
Men like Adam Scott, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson might have steadier games these days, but what they don’t have is what they never will have: Tiger’s charisma.
I read where some writer claimed Tiger’s absence will not hurt the Masters. He called Augusta the star, and the Georgia course is the brightest star in the galaxy of golf courses.
Yet it’s never been the golf course that has held the cachet; it has always been the performers and the magnificent shots they’ve made.
I remember the twisting, smooth-rolling, 40-foot putt a 46-year-old Nicklaus sank on the par-3 16th hole in the 1975 Masters; or, 12 years later, Larry Mize’s 100-foot chip shot that he holed out on the 11th hole; or, in 2005, Tiger’s chip-in on the same hole that Nicklaus had made famous. His shot stood still for a moment and then began its slow roll toward the cup. The ball hung on the cup’s edge for a moment before it fell in.
Remember that shot, and it helps me remember all I need to about Tiger Woods. He was at his best in April of 2005. It was that Tiger Woods, a golfer whose back hadn’t balked on him, who made golf fans look on in awe as he rounded Amen Corner and strolled with them across the back nine; he is not the Tiger I see now as the broken-down relic from almost a decade ago.
I won’t miss the latter Tiger, even if those who obsess over his game do.
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(Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)