AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – The legends usually fade away gracefully here, part of the reason why the absence of Tiger Woods at the Masters seems so jarring.
He wasn’t at the Champions Dinner Tuesday night, won’t be on the first tee Thursday morning. Someone else will be putting on the green jacket when it’s all over, and not nearly as many people will be sitting in front of their TVs at home watching it happen.
“It’s part of what you do in April,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said. “You watch Tiger compete in the Masters.”
It might just be an aberration, and there’s always the chance Woods will be back one day almost as good as new. But there’s also the sense that one of the most spectacular reigns in the history of the game could be coming to an end in the same place Woods first burst into the public consciousness 17 years ago.
It’s now been six years since Woods won a major championship, and nearly a decade since he last won a Masters. With a surgically repaired back at the age of 38, it would be hard to find a bookie in Vegas offering decent odds that he will win another anytime soon — if ever.
None of that means all that much to the other players here. They’re beholden to Woods because he has helped make many of them rich, but they’re also here this week with a job to do that is always easier in his absence.
They’re his contemporaries, if not his rivals. Woods never really had a rival in the way Arnold Palmer had Jack Nicklaus or Ben Hogan had Sam Snead. When he put on his red shirt on Sunday the tournament was usually his to lose, not someone else’s to win.
“Players to some extent will miss him but then they are like, hey he’s not here, so it’s one less guy you have to beat,” Steve Stricker said.
Golf will miss him more, especially in the one place people associate with the game more than any other. From the time Woods won in a runaway in 1997 to become the first black man to win a green jacket, the Masters has been all about Woods — and both the tournament and the player have prospered greatly.
The buzz in the weeks and days before the Masters has for the last two decades been about how Woods will do. The TV ratings on Sunday soar when he’s in contention, as he almost always is.
It’s not the same without him now. It may never be the same again.
“It’s awkward to not have him here,” Phil Mickelson said. “I hope he gets back soon.”
Mickelson talked some this week about what Woods has meant to the game, reminiscing about the $180,000 first place purse offered when he won his first tournament in Tucson in 1991 as an amateur. He suggested to his agent that week that someone might win $1 million in a tournament someday, though probably not during Mickelson’s career.