The 2013 Masters was destined to be the major that restarted Tiger Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 career major championships. Instead, it’s the title that got away and the one that threatens to haunt the world’s best player many years from now.
A hugely unlucky break, a terrible drop to follow and a host of missed opportunities over the weekend cost Tiger a chance for his fifth green jacket and, more importantly, a 15th career major title. We know without a doubt this loss frustrates Woods tremendously.
What we won’t know for perhaps a decade or so is whether this Masters becomes the one that keeps Tiger from reaching or surpassing Jack Nicklaus as the all-time leader in major championships—a quest that will ultimately define him as a professional golfer.
Woods came to Augusta National riding a wave of confidence on the strength of three victories to start the season. Every facet of his game was in place, especially his putting, and he was the overwhelming favorite to win.
Then came the well-documented 15th hole on Friday, where bad fortune and a poor drop combined to cost Tiger four shots and, ultimately, his chance to win another Masters title, which would ultimately go to Adam Scott in a two-hole playoff over Angel Cabrera.
The ultimate price of this tournament, however, may be far more costly to Woods when he looks back on this weekend at Augusta National far down the line. Given he’s played in more than 60 of them, Tiger owns his share of major disappointments, but he’s never endured anything like what hit him on late Friday and early Saturday.
Golfers like Woods can handle a misplayed shot or a pulled putt under pressure, but when poor judgment, simple bad luck and a phone call from an unknown television viewer conspire to make things go so sideways, it surely makes his gut churn.
Four short years ago, Woods’ career seemed fast-tracked to catching Nicklaus with years to spare. In fact, after winning the 2008 U.S. Open, on a broken leg no less, it wasn't if but when he would catch and surpass 18. Four years later, he hasn't won another major, has undergone significant surgery and has suffered through a very public and messy divorce.
Now the struggles that have tortured him off the course seem to have seeped onto it in ways that not even the mentally strong Tiger can begin to figure out. While his game wasn't spectacular this weekend, it would have been good enough that had "15 on Friday” not happened, he would have likely been in Sunday’s playoff.
Instead of victory, however, Woods now has a mountain of “what ifs” and “could have beens” walking away from Augusta National that will only grow and mount if he continues to struggle in majors and his chase of Nicklaus remains in neutral.
Many great golfers have that one major championship failure they just can’t seem to get past. Think about Greg Norman’s 1996 Masters and how long that loss to Nick Faldo will stay with him. Consider Phil Mickelson’s 2006 U.S. Open collapse on the 72nd hole. While Woods has fallen short in majors far more than won them, he has avoided this type of devastating loss….until now.
Woods is only 37, and there are dozens of majors left in his future. Yet what if he finishes one shy of Jack or even catches but can’t surpass the legendary golfer? How will he and we look back on this Masters when the story of his career has ultimately played out?
Those questions will be answered down the line. One thing we know Sunday is the 2013 Masters is one that got away from Tiger. What we don’t know yet is whether it will be the one that got away.