Tour Confidential: Will Tiger Woods play the Masters? And can he contend?
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we break down the Masters, Tiger Woods and Jennifer Kupcho’s first major title.
1. Will he or won’t he? He, of course, is Tiger Woods, who played Augusta National on Tuesday of last week and again on Sunday, fueling speculation about his potential return at the Masters. But we still don’t have any answers, as Woods tweeted on Sunday that it will be a game-time decision on whether he competes. The 15-time major champ was in a near-fatal car crash in February 2021, played in the PNC Championship in December with his son, Charlie, but hasn’t walked 18 holes of a tournament since the 2020 Masters. So, back to our original question, will he play, or won’t he?
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Yes. He’s playing. Once he decided to fly to Augusta last week, he was very likely going to play. Now that he’s here, he’d have to experience a serious setback to keep him from that first tee come Thursday. Yes, yes, yes.
Luke Kerr-Dineen, instruction editor (@LukeKerrDineen): Every indication we have is that he’s playing. He’s in the field. He’s got a press conference lined up. He says it’s a game-time decision, but the way I read that statement is that Tiger’s reserving the right to pull the plug at the last minute if his body takes a bad turn. But all else equal, he’s teeing it up.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I’d be shocked if he didn’t play now. It was a good sign he played on Tuesday, but an even better one that he decided to give it another go on Sunday. He’s not coming in two days early just to attend the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. Plus, Augusta is intoxicating, for players and patrons and people watching at home. He’s human, and the more time he spends on the course the more he’s going to want to play, even if he is on the fence.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): Duh. Yes. It’s Tiger Woods at the Masters. If his body is close enough to competing at the Masters that he’s willing to leave it up to the last three days before the tournament to make a decision … it’s close enough for him to play. It’s just that simple. Though I respect Tiger’s flair for the dramatic.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Everything I think about Tiger Woods is wrong.* I really thought he would not play. Which surely means he will.
2. Are you surprised Woods, who has played this course hundreds of times, needs these scouting trips to test his body? What is he testing that he doesn’t already know from his decades of experience or past recoveries from injury?
Dethier: No, I’m not surprised. I’m guessing many of our readers have been to Florida. It’s flat! Augusta National is distinctly not. He wanted to test his ability to walk the course. He wanted to test his ability to recover from walking the course. He wanted to see Augusta National. And he wanted to play golf with his son Charlie. Why not go?
Kerr-Dineen: Tiger’s not scouting the course. He’s scouting his leg. How does it feel going up and down hills? Or when he twists and turns after walking three miles? What about when he’s in the slippery pine straw? It’s stuff that’s very specific to the layout itself.
Berhow: I would guess he had a pretty good indication he’d play even before he made the trip. A tune-up round or two couldn’t hurt just to be sure. Plus, when you have a private jet at your disposal it makes things a little easier.
Colgan: Do you go to the gym once or twice before trying to hit your max on the bench? Or take a few greens before working your way up to the black diamonds? Yes, you do. Tiger was doing exactly the same. We should expect nothing different.
Bamberger: Tiger is, like all the greats, a wild mixture of personality types, both hyper-realistic but also capable of great, fantastical thinking. On the physical side, he had to see if his body can walk it for four straight days. On the fantastical side, he had to talk himself into thinking he can shoot 140 for two rounds. After that, who knows?
3. If Woods tees it up, what are his chances? To win? To make the cut? Does he care?
Dethier: To make the cut? Excellent chance. He’s never missed the cut at the Masters as a pro. We’ve heard and now seen that his swing looks good. As long as his body cooperates, Woods is there on the weekend. As for winning? Sheesh. You’d think the rust would keep him from winning. You’d think the strain of 72 holes would keep him from serious contention. But I’ve officially quit counting out Tiger Woods, permanently.
Kerr-Dineen: On paper, a 46 year old coming off a horrible leg injury after a horrible slate of back injuries, without any competitive rounds before this, is a player primed to miss the cut. But I’ve learned my lesson on Tiger too many times. Anytime Tiger Woods tees it up, he can win.
Berhow: From the little we’ve seen from him, he looks pretty good. And his Augusta course knowledge is impeccable. That’s mental, and it’s valuable, and it doesn’t matter how his body feels. I don’t think he’d have any issues making the cut. I’m also not going to pick him to contend on Sunday, but what a boost his presence would give what’s already the biggest golf tournament of the year.
Colgan: Dylan, you were the one who first pointed out to me last April that it’s really hard to miss the cut at the Masters. It’s one of the smallest fields in golf, so making it to the weekend is significantly easier than at the other majors. If Tiger plays, we should expect that much. Anything more? Well, let’s not be ridiculous.
Bamberger: Yes on making the cut. Yes on contending. Yes on winning.*
4. Woods’ potential return will dominate the headlines, but what other Masters storylines should the golf world be aware of?
Dethier: Rory McIlroy’s pursuit of the career grand slam feels like it has gotten less attention this year than any previous attempt. Combine that with the extra eyeballs on Woods and his missed cut at last week’s Valero Texas Open and you’ve got a potential recipe for an under-the-radar McIlroy to fire a decent opening round (his major championship Achilles heel) and get in position to win the green jacket.
Kerr-Dineen: Viktor Hovland has been running hot, and seems to have a game that suits this course — off the tee and into the greens, at least. If he chips it well enough to get a green jacket, it could bring the dawn of a new wave in European golf.
Berhow: Can Rory finally finish off the grand slam? Will a struggling Spieth once again find it at Augusta National? And will Jon Rahm start piling up major titles? Rahm has every tool you need to win a bunch of major championships, and he seems like he could be ready to go on a heater. He’s been in the top 10 in his last four Masters and was top 10 in all four majors last year, which included a U.S. Open title.
Colgan: Collin Morikawa is the best ball-striker in the world, playing on the course best-suited for ball-strikers, and is looking for his third(!) major in 20 months in the process. Of course, he’s like the ninth-biggest storyline of tournament week, but that feels pretty big to me!
Bamberger: Who will fill out the Tiger Woods threesome if Tiger Woods doesn’t play? Because the other two players, likely a Big Name Pro and a Promising Amateur, will not likely go off as a twosome. Also, will Phil attend dinner Tuesday night? (Not likely but he does like sushi.)
5. We know there’s a lot to like about Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa and the rest of the crew atop the Official World Golf Ranking, but what other player is trending in the right direction for this year’s Masters?
Dethier: Max Homa has been sneaky-good. He hasn’t been winning events but has been lurking and arguably playing the most consistent golf of his career. This feels like the year he breaks through and gets in contention for the first time.
Kerr-Dineen: It’s an eclectic and unexpected group of golfers trending well early this season. Outside of the obvious: Joaquin Niemann would be a fun player to watch contend for his first major.
Berhow: Dylan’s right about Homa. He’s had a really solid run but has made just one cut in his last seven major starts. That trend can’t continue forever. Also, Cameron Smith has entered four events in 2022 and won two of them. He’s one of the best putters out there and, last I checked, that’s one big key to contending at Augusta.
Colgan: I sure wouldn’t want to be counting out last year’s Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris right about now.
6. Which major-less player — guys like Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Viktor Hovland, among others — has the best chance of claiming their first at the Masters come Sunday night?
Dethier: Xander. When he steps onto the 16th tee come Sunday I suspect he might have a chance at redemption.
Kerr-Dineen: Our cover star Tony Finau hasn’t had the hottest start to the season, but he’s comfortable at Augusta and more than talented enough to slip on a green jacket one day. What a way to kick start his 2022 season.
Berhow: Scottie Scheffler has been on an absolute tear lately — three wins in his last five starts — and now he’s coming to a course where he’s placed in the top 20 in both of his starts. His confidence must be off the charts, which is bad news for the field.
Colgan: Patty Ice! It’s about time for Mr. Cantlay to break through.
Bamberger: Scheffler, because he’s the one, from the group, for whom winning the Masters likely means the least.
7. Jennifer Kupcho took a six-shot lead into the final round of the Chevron Championship at Mission Hills and ended up with a two-shot victory over Jessica Korda. It’s the first major title for the 24-year-old former Augusta National Women’s Amateur and NCAA champion. What made her so dominant in the desert, and what kind of staying power does she have atop the women’s game?
Dethier: She jumped out to a massive lead because she caught fire on Saturday. She won because on No. 15, after leaking two bogeys in a row and seeing her lead dwindle from seven all the way down to two, she fired driver down the middle and nearly holed her approach. The kick-in birdie sealed it. That was big-time stuff.
Berhow: She was also 2-1-1 in her Solheim Cup debut last year and now gets her first LPGA win. A shaky finish but she had some room for error, and the first victory is never easy. A really good player who’s bound to add several more victories to her resume.
Colgan: What made her so dominant is her competitive fire. I suspect her staying power will likely be tied to the same.
Bamberger: She’s a winner, as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and Mickey Wright and Jack Nicklaus were winners. Winners as juniors. Winners as amateurs. Winners as young pros. Winners throughout their careers. Talent + mindset + health = consistent winning.