AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tuesday was different here, at this 85th Masters. Tiger Woods didn’t have a press conference. He didn’t have one last year at this time, either, on account of there being no tournament. He did have one in 2019, on the Tuesday of Masters week. If you were reading tea leaves in that session — where Frank the Headcover made his debut as a shirt logo — you had to think he was going to have a good week. He owned the room, as he always did, when he was feeling good.
All the old hands — the veteran Tiger-watchers — were saying that. Look out for Tiger. His practice sessions and practice rounds were clinics.
We’re conditioned to seeing Tiger on the range, with Butch or Sean Foley, with Fluff or Joe LaCava. We’re accustomed to seeing him on the course, with Fred or JT or (back in the day) with Seve or Arnold. We have observed at close range the little eruptions from this amateur camp or that one, when some player, not-yet-a-pro, finds out he’s playing with Tiger for the first two rounds. Andy Ogletree, last year. Casey Wittenberg, years ago. Edoardo Molinari before that, with brother Francesco on the bag.
The ripple effect. Tiger’s presence in this game is almost immeasurable. The ripples are more like waves. The PGA Tour has likely been far too reliant on Tiger for its own health, but what choice did its overlords really have? Millions were Tiger trackers, plus that guy(s) on the internet.
When we last saw Tiger — we the (broadly speaking) golf-watching public — it was on the Sunday of the Genesis Invitational. That is, the L.A. Open. He was (he is) host of that event, but he wasn’t playing, as he was recovering from yet another back procedure. He did do an interview with Jim Nantz of CBS. A guess is it was under duress. Tiger looked almost hidden, in his black hat, black shirt, black vest and large black headphones on his ears.
“So Tiger, seven weeks from today, the final round of the Masters,” Nantz said, interviewing Tiger remotely and looking at him on a screen above him. “Are you going to be there?”
“God, I hope so,” Tiger said. “I got to get there first.” That is, to the first tee on Thursday, with good enough play over the first 36 holes to still be in the field come Masters weekend. That’s how you get to Sunday at the Masters. Part of Tiger’s greatness is that he takes nothing for granted. The best never do. Sunday is promised to nobody, except priests and the NFL in season.
Tiger could not possibly know that, a day and a half later, he would crash his Genesis Invitational Genesis SUV and turn his life upside down.
So no Tuesday press conference. No must-watch range session. No appearance at the Champions Dinner. No practice rounds with Fred. No little under-the-tree conversations.
Would you take him, at 7 to 1?
Well, you can’t count him out, can you?
This year, sadly, he’s not in the conversation at all. He’s stuck on five, on 15, on 82. Those are just numbers. The numbers attached to his playing record are the least of his problems.
Tiger’s been quiet in his absence. His camp has been quiet, too. Rory said on Tuesday that he has seen the man.
“Tiger has missed this event before this year, but does this feel different given the severity of the accident and his injuries and age, and if you have some concern of what might come of him in the next few years?” a reporter asked McIlroy.
“Any time Tiger Woods tees it up in a golf tournament, it’s better,” McIlroy said. He has only been present, on the grounds, for one of Tiger’s 15 majors. That’s the difference in their ages and eras. “It’s better for the tournament. It’s better for the players. It’s better for everyone.
“Unfortunately, he’s not here this year. Hopefully, if his recovery goes well, who knows, he could be back in 12 months’ time. But he’s always missed when he doesn’t play in these big events. And that doesn’t change this week, whether it’s to do with his back or his leg or whatever it is. I know he’s at home and he’s fully focused on the recovery process and I feel like he’s mentally strong enough to get through that. And once he does, broken bones heel, and he’s just got to take it step-by-step. I know he’d love to be here, and I’m sure he’s going to put everything he has into trying to be ready to play here next year.
McIlroy was asked if he had actually seen Woods. He has.
“I went to see him I guess the Sunday before the Match Play. I went over and saw him. Spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him. It was good to see him in decent spirits and actually not as — when you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, it’s like, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that.
“A few of us that live down in South Florida went to see him. I’m sure he appreciates that. And, again, as I said, everyone would love to see him back out here again. Myself, I think J.T., Rickie, D.J,, Brooks, all those guys down there, we all have a responsibility to try to keep his spirits up and keep him going and try to get him back out here.”
As injury reports, via a Tuesday press conference, go, that was one-of-a-kind, filled with heart and sorrow and hope. It was a different kind of Tuesday here. The rest of the week will be different, too.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com.