For the first time in almost two decades, when Augusta National opens its gates to the top golfers in the world, the best golfer in the world will be absent.
Imagining the Masters without Tiger Woods is like imagining a round of golf without a nice cold Arnold Palmer, or with clubs that are wooden. You would have to go way, way back.
This past Monday, Tiger Woods underwent microdiscectomy surgery on his back to repair a pinched nerve that will force him to miss the Masters, at the very least. This procedure could keep the most famous name in gold out for even longer. His chances at the US Open, British Open, and the rest of this season are in serious jeopardy.
Tiger, and many other people viewed this season as a great chance to get back on track to reaching the goal. The goal being breaking Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. Tiger currently sits at 14. As far as the courses go this year, Tiger’s chances are looking good. He dominated at Augusta four times. He has won once each at both Royal Liverpool and Valhalla (the sites of the British Open and PGA Championship respectively). He has also finished second and third in the past at the US Open venue, Pinehurst.
That being said, this surgery will in fact give Tiger Woods a better chance at breaking the record. Every discussion about Tiger winning a tournament or a major should end with “if he is healthy”. If Tiger Woods is healthy, he is almost guaranteed to be in contention, but physical health has been his number one concern. He is almost 39, been playing golf at the highest level for about 20 years and isn’t getting any younger. He had a reconstructive knee surgery in 2008, a neck injury in 2010, an achilles injury in 2011, elbow injury in 2013, and has experienced back spasms the last two years. In other words, his body seems be breaking down and breaking down fast. Tiger’s decision to have surgery as opposed to fight through the Masters, as he may have done in the past, shows that he is more concerned with the future than he is with the present. He realizes that if he is healthy, he can play another 10, 15 years.
The surgery will give Tiger time. Time to heal his back and other unknown injuries that he refuses to talk about, time to spend with his kids and his new girlfriend, and time to think about his game. Yes, he will miss some great chances to win a major this year, but there is always next year and the next 10 after that. Next year he will have another chance at Augusta. The British Open even returns to St. Andrews, where Tiger won in 2000 and 2005.
If we assume that he will play another 10 years, that is 40 majors. Tiger has won a little over 20% of the majors that he has played in. While that rate is insane, and is something that he will likely be unable to keep up, if we assume that he will be half as successful in majors, he will win four majors in the next 10 years. That would be enough to tie Nicklaus. Many would say that this is an optimistic estimate, but a healthy Tiger could easily win a few more majors over the next 10 years. People say that he hasn’t won a major in the past 6 years, but in the 18 majors he has played in since 2008, he has finished in the top six 50% of the time. He is putting himself in position, it is just a matter of time until the pieces fall in place.
It is unknown what the timetable is for Tiger’s return. He may start putting in three weeks or three months, but you can be sure that he will not rush his return. By picking surgery over fighting through injury, Tiger Woods has made it clear that he cares more about playing at Pebble Beach in five years than he does about playing Pinehurst this year.
Photo: Keith Allison/Wikipedia