AUGUSTA – Friday’s long overdue announcement by Tiger Woods that he would not be lowered from a medevac helicopter directly to the first tee for the start of the Masters was hardly hot news.
Until nearly the last possible moment the four-time Masters champ delayed issuing the official word that he would not play here for the second time in three years. Apparently, releasing one coy video of swinging a 9-iron is not sufficient preparation for a return from multiple back procedures.
But the release was telling in one important way: Just how un-newsy it really felt. Its practical impact was negligible, effecting the anticipation for the season’s first major not a whit. Woods used to create tsunamis with his every proclamation. Then there came the current one, more like a stone skipped across Lake Oconee.
Every year that passes that he is not a factor has only lessened the game’s reliance upon him. The withdrawal from this particular pop narcotic is nearly complete. Despite the fact that the demise of Woods’ golf is one of the most mind-bending stories going, there is an increasing “So what?” reaction out there to him, until he actually does something.
Making that all possible is the compelling collection of players to whom Woods has bequeathed the game.
There is so much young star power in golf now that it even has its own branded version of the Big Three: Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy. Three sub-30 year old players, conveniently representing different countries and all displaying the kind of skills that jump up and down and demand attention.
It’s enough to enthuse an 80-year-old. OK, well, Gary Player is almost always enthused.
“It’s fascinating to look at the three and compare them,” Player was saying last week. “Rory and Jason have a better swing than Jordan Spieth, but Jordan Spieth is a better putter. The power of the putter – there is so much emphasis being put on long hitting but it’s very over-exaggerated. The commentators hammer that home every time. It always happens, my friend, the putter is the king.”
We all wondered how the sport would fare whenever Woods would meet his inevitable decline. Turns out, any thought that he would drag the game down with him was completely daft.
“I think golf is definitely in a good spot right now,” Spieth, the defending Masters champion, said. “You just have crazy, crazy solid competition right now from everybody, and that’s why I think it’s really strong.”
And the list of long and dangerous players extends far deeper than the three top-ranked players in the world. Coming to a Masters near you this year are storylines by the bushel, from young and restless Rickie Fowler to middle-aged and restless Phil Mickelson. Adam Scott sawed off his putter but not his chances to win another Masters. Bubba Watson is so comfortable at Augusta National he may string a hammock between the pines on No. 10.
If you can’t find one or more to hold your interest while the CBS cameras pitch woo to this place for four days, then you’ll never get golf.