Golf Monthly's Nick Bonfield assesses Tiger Woods' chances of victory in the 2014 Masters at Augusta National
Masters blog: Tiger’s time?
This time last year, Tiger Woods was justifiably favorite to record his fifth Masters title and break his ever-extending major hiatus.
He had, after all, secured victory a couple of weeks previously at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – his second win in March and a third triumph of a season that seemingly signalled his fully-fledged return from golfing abyss.
He arrived at Augusta in perfect health and full of confidence, and that manifested itself in his play over the first 32 holes. He was making serene progress over Augusta’s perfectly manicured fairways and looking every inch the player frequently touted as the best to have every played the game.
But then disaster struck. His third shot to the par-5 15th ricocheted off the flag, and his subsequent drop facilitated fierce debate, a discussion pertaining to a perceived bending of the rules and calls for Woods to do the magnanimous thing and disqualify himself.
That was never going the happen, but few can dispute its impact on the 2013 Masters. Yes, a number of qualify players were still in contention, but devoted followers of Woods remain convinced everything – even at that early stage – was pointing towards as 15th major.
As we approach this year’s Masters, nothing much has changed. Woods has added another few tournaments to his overall tally, but, frankly, those are inconsequential for a player of Tiger’s stature. Once you reach such lofty heights, progress is only defined by major success.
The main difference between this year and last is pre-tournament consensus and issues relating to health. He arrived at Augusta last year in perfect health, both physically and mentally – the diametric opposite to the situation this time around.
As I write this, Woods still hasn’t confirmed his place in the field. He pulled out of the Honda Classic during the final round and withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational before hitting a single shot.
In his last appearance, Woods declared: “For Augusta, it’s actually a little soon to be honest with you. I’ve had a couple of weeks of treatment, just working on trying to get ready for Augusta. As of right now it’s still too soon. As I said, it’s very frustrating.”
I’m also concerned about his mental state. He looks more aloof, more detached, more impassive than I’ve seen him before. I’d stop short of calling him disinterested, but he doesn’t seem to have the fire in the belly and the intrinsic will to win that have been synonymous with his name since the 1997 Masters.
Perhaps he needs a break from the game; time away to reassess, re-evaluate and regenerate. The game of golf needs Tiger Woods, but only if he’s firing on all cylinders.
Still, if he does shake off his back injury and compete in the Masters, anything could happen. This is, after all, a man who won the US Open on one leg and someone who knows Augusta well enough to contend blindfolded.
But there is an inverse proportion between Woods’ stock and the stock of others in the field. The likes of Jason Day, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth represent a new, fearless generation comprised of players who are young, hungry, resolute and determined.
Do any of those words apply to Woods anymore?