As the world's greatest professional golfers emerge on Augusta National this week, the biggest name in the game of golf won't be making the drive down Magnolia Lane. Tiger Woods shocked the golf world last week when he announced he would miss The Masters -- and probably the rest of the 2014 season -- as he recovers from a microdiscectomy to repair a bulging disc in his back.
This is the first time in 20 years The Masters tournament will go on without Woods, who has captured the coveted green jacket four times. Of course this causes even more speculation if Woods will ever surpass Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major championship victories, of which Tiger currently holds 14. Many people, including Woods' former coach Hank Haney, believe it would be nearly impossible for Woods to catch Nicklaus at this point. Haney said, "Facts and history don't really support the theory even if he was healthy... and he isn't healthy."
There are three important things to remember about a Tigerless Masters Tournament, starting with the most obvious.
Tiger Woods Will Break Jack Nicklaus' Record for Major Championship Victories
I believe Hank Haney and everyone else who say Tiger Woods won't break the record are dead wrong. It was only a few years ago when the world wrote off Tiger Woods after his extramarital affairs leaked out to the world. A lot of people said he was finished and there was no way he would ever make a comeback. I went on national television on The Golf Channel and predicted a Tiger comeback. Woods not only made a comeback, he dominated the PGA Tour last season by winning five of the 16 tournaments he played, finished in the top 10 in three others and won Player of the Year honors.
Last time Tiger had to come back from an emotional and mental setback; this time it's physical. If I were a betting man, the one guy who can do it is Tiger Woods. Forget the naysayers who say he's already 38 years old, his best days are behind him and that this is an extremely difficult injury to recover from. This is Tiger Woods. He will come back out of nowhere just when everyone has counted him out. Emotionally speaking, he doesn't understand the concept of giving up. On the physical plane he has perseverance, on the mental plane he has toughness and on the spiritual plane he has artistry like no one else who has ever played the game of golf.
The Tour Pros Wish Tiger Was at Augusta
Many people believe that the tour pros are secretly pleased that Tiger won't be at Augusta this week because it removes a major contender and gives others a chance to win. As a former professional athlete I can vouch from personal experience this is the farthest thing from the truth. Champions believe if you remove the adversity, you remove the victory. In my tennis days we were upset when names like McEnroe, Connors and Lendl weren't competing. When you take on the great ones, your level of play is elevated to a higher level. An amateur golfer with a four handicap would rather play with a scratch golfer than a weekend golfer with a 25 handicap. It challenges him and makes him rise to the occasion. Same holds true for the pros. Sure, a green jacket is an amazing feat, but a green jacket won against a field that includes Tiger Woods would be even sweeter.
Augusta National Is Bigger Than Tiger Woods
The final and most important takeaway about this week's Master's Tournament: Augusta National is bigger than Tiger Woods, or anyone else for that matter. Some people believe the tournament just won't be the same without Tiger and that TV ratings will suffer. That's nonsense. This is the Super Bowl of golf, the one tournament that diehard golf fans and non-golf fans wait for each spring.
The azaleas will be in full bloom. The course will be manicured just perfectly. Thousands of fans will settle in for the day around the most famous greens in the world. And the nostalgia of Augusta National and 77 previous Masters Tournaments will be in full effect. When Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player hit the ceremonial first tee shots on Thursday morning, it's not going to be about Tiger Woods. It's going to be about the greatest tournament in the game of golf and everything that comes with it. It's going to be about the first time the famous Eisenhower Tree, which succumbed to winter weather, won't be at The Masters. It's going to be about the largest number of rookies (23) to ever play The Masters since 1935. It's going to be about Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson duking it out to take over the world's number-one ranking. It's going to be about the history and the memories of one of the most special places in all of sports. And finally, it's going to be about the pursuit of the green jacket, the most sought-after prize in golf.