AUGUSTA, Georgia — Even during dress rehearsals, Tiger Woods can move the earth like no other at Augusta National. He spent his Masters practice time wowing his fellow pros with his ability to hit the long ball and shoot arrows at the flags, reminding everyone how much the game still needs him.
Thousands and thousands of fans followed him every step of the way on Monday and Wednesday, with heavy rains interrupting the love fest on Tuesday, all making for a remarkable and horrific scene at the same time.
Remarkable, of course, because Woods could have been killed less than 14 months ago when he crashed his SUV south of Los Angeles and lost his right leg from amputation to grotesque injuries.
Terrible, because the optics of the practice round proved once again how badly golf still urgently needs a scarred and battered 46-year-old who moves through this arena with the limp of an old man.
When Woods first emerged as a college kid in the mid-1990s, golf was a fringe country club sport best known for its shameful history of exclusion. Woods changed everything and obliterated the field with unprecedented power and precision. Armed with Arnold Palmer’s brawn and mass appeal and Jack Nicklaus’ determination and skill, Tiger became the first golfer to be considered the world’s most recognized athlete.
The game rode that wave, keeping the scandal, the surgeries, the roadside police video, more surgeries, and even the crash for his life. Golf would never be as popular in this country as football, baseball, and basketball, but Tiger Woods made it feel as big as the NFL’s biggest Sunday at times. There was real hope that a new generation of athletes – inspired by Woods – would abandon fields and diamonds and courts in favor of fairways and greens to take golf to greater heights.
Even though the Rory McElroys, Brooks Koepkas and Dustin Johnsons brought more athleticism to the game, that revolution didn’t happen. Kobe Bryant and then LeBron James were there to carry the NBA after Michael Jordan took his ball and went home. Golf has its share of promising young players, but I don’t see any Kobes or LeBrons.
I don’t see a tiger either, except for the one who thinks he can win this tournament on one leg.
Once upon a time, I never thought a superstar golfer could be bigger than The Masters itself. Augusta National is Wrigley Field meets Fenway Park, the one major championship venue that never changes and never disappoints. The feel of the sun and the sight of the greenest grass and whitest sand can have a profound, restorative effect on a Northeast weary from another long winter.
But Woods proved me wrong. I’ve covered the Masters with and without him on the field, and the difference in experience is the difference between a dusty, ragged par 3 at your local muni and the 12th hole at Amen Corner.
While practicing on the seventh hole on Monday, Jon Rahm watched the gallery follow the group Woods, Fred Couples and Justin Thomas going down the second hole and said: “I’ve never seen a fair that big, not even on a Sunday of competition.” Thomas, one of the best players in the world, walked along this gallery for nine holes and said, “Some buddies sent me some pictures [Monday] night, and that’s probably more people than ever, when I played a round at Augusta National, and they weren’t there to watch me.
You were there to watch Tiger because even at this age and even in this condition he excels at the game he plays. In other words, no sport has ever needed an athlete more than golf and Tiger Woods.
Jordan lifted pro basketball to the top globally, but Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had already saved the NBA from nighttime, tape-delayed oblivion in the pre-MJ era long before Kobe and LeBron dominated the post-MJ era of social media. Tom Brady helped authenticate the NFL as must-see TV, but Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes stepped in behind him as impromptu geniuses in pro football’s most visible place.
Nick Faldo and Greg Norman preceded Woods, and McIlroy, DJ and Jordan Spieth arrived in the back nine of his prime. Legitimate stars, no doubt, but as champions and public figures not within Tiger’s longest par-five.
“I’ve never seen anything like this on Monday,” Couples said Wednesday. “I was in the last group here, I won here. … I have pictures [from Monday] I must have invented that. They’re not about me. It’s just the gallery that people sent me… [from] #8, #7 in the far back corner, and there it is [fans] 10 deep.
“So they wanted to see the big guy and they saw him and they saw good golf. … It was amazing.”
And frightening at the same time. So when the 15-time major champion and 82-time tour winner Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann tee off on Thursday morning at 10:34 a.m., the entire golfing world will stand and watch and roar.
This sport will keep Tiger Woods as long as possible because there is no one remotely close to coming from behind like him.
https://nypost.com/2022/04/06/golf-desperately-needs-masters-spectacle-only-tiger-woods-can-create/ Golf desperately needs a Masters spectacle that only Tiger Woods can pull off