by Sean Begin
A piece of news surfaced on April Fool’s Day that, at first glance, seemed to fit the theme of the day. As I was perusing Twitter, I saw a headline that announced Tiger Wood’s would miss the Masters.
Tiger not at the Masters? That hasn’t happened in nearly two full decades. Someone had to have made up this rumor.
But after some digging, I saw the news had come from the man himself, when he announced through his website that he had undergone microdiscectomy surgery to fix back pain caused by a pinched nerve.
Wood’s hasn’t won the tournament that he made his name at (when, as an amateur in 1997, he obliterated the field by 12 strokes, finishing 18-under par) since 2005. He hasn’t been a factor, really, since the SUV accident and cheating scandal that almost destroyed his career in 2009.
Since then, Wood’s has placed no better than fourth in golf’s first major of the year. Woods, famously, has struggled since that life event. His last major came in 2008, when he won the U.S. Open on a destroyed knee (Wood’s had a double stress fracture rehabbing a prior knee surgery from April and needed ACL surgery after the tournament).
Tiger sits currently at number one on the golf rankings, but his missing the Masters could see that ranking slip away from him once again. There are three golfers that could surpass Woods, although a minimum of a third place tie would be necessary.
Some in the sports media world have declared that by missing the Masters, Tiger no longer has any shot of passing Jack Nicklaus’ majors record of 18; that the Age of Tiger has become a thing of the past.
While its true that Woods’ body has essentially betrayed him since 2008 (he has had multiple Achilles’ injuries in both ankles, ACL and MCL repair in his left knee and neck and back problems) he has shown flashes of his former dominant self.
He won five times in 2013, before succumbing to injuries early this season.
While its too soon to declare Woods finished, it suddenly becomes a much more real idea that he could fail to pass Nicklaus. Woods turned 38 in December.
The man he is chasing, Jack Nicklaus, won four after he turned 38, including his final championship, the 1986 Masters, when he was 46 years old. Ben Hogan won five after he turned 38, the most by anyone in history after that age.
It’s not impossible, despite his recent injury history, that Woods can win another major. The question becomes, can he win four? The Masters has always been Woods baby. It was his first major, the one he’s the most, tied at four with the PGA Championship.
Some experts have said if Woods is to break his streak of winless majors, it’d be at Augusta. Now, that chance will pass Woods by for another year, until he returns to the links in Georgia at age 39.
The Masters and golf will survive Woods’ absence, but it will not see the ratings it usually does. There is no doubt Woods remains golf’s biggest star, and biggest ratings drawer. Woods has always drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan: a star that changed the face of the game he played.
It’s not a question if Woods has the ability to win. 2013 proved he can still golf with the best of them.
The question now becomes can Woods survive his rapidly declining body? Can Woods keep his failing knee and ailing back healthy enough to make one last, late career push to cement his legacy as greatest golfer to grace the game?
They say an old tiger sensing his end is at his most fierce. In this case, I sincerely hope so.