Forgive me if you’ve heard this one before: Tiger Woods is the favorite to win the Masters. I am sorry if I’m beating a dead horse, but there is something that very few people seem to be talking about.
Bill Simmons briefly touched on it at the end of his very bold Tiger vs. Ali comeback comparison, but other than the Sports Guy, nobody seems to want to touch it because, quite frankly, it’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around. What if Tiger fails at The Masters?
Now we’ve heard from everyone and their mother how Tiger is always the favorite coming into Augusta. Rick Reilly has said he wants to “see Tiger smile again.” Analysts such as Jason Sobel, Tom Rinaldi, and David Feherty have all said they expect Tiger to outright win The Masters. Even President Barack Obama has weighed in saying he thinks Woods will still “be at the top of his game.”
Yes, when the discussion is all said and done, Woods will still be considered by many to be the greatest golfer of all time. Yet, that fact alone does not guarantee victory or even moderate success at Augusta National Golf Club.
In fact, Woods' character now links him more to Happy Gilmore than that of transcendent athletes trying to come back from a hiatus, such as Jordan or Ali. While Woods may not crush drives 400-plus yards, or have intense difficulty with his short game, he does have the same propensity as Mr. Gilmore to slam clubs while huffing and puffing his way around the course during a bad round.
Even before the scandal erupted, it was not difficult to read the words coming out of Woods' lips. Words that might even make Happy Gilmore blush. At least Happy had the class to listen to “Endless Love” in the dark while chasing the heart of one woman, as opposed to Woods, who appears to be trying to surpass Wilt Chamberlain in the number of women he’s bedded.
It is impossible to doubt Woods' technical skill, but as anyone who has ever picked up a club will attest, golf is a mental game. What happens if somebody throws something at Woods? Or too many fans make slurs and provocative comments? What happens if in response, rottweiler Steve Williams physically assaults a fan? Even the most vilified athletes of all time have always had distance. Personas such as Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens have the safety of the sidelines, the field, and the stands to hide behind. Golf is obviously different. There are no confines except that tiny, thin little rope that stands as boundary for thousands of fans, yet provides little space in between for protection. Woods is as tough as they come, but what if he and everybody else are truly unprepared for what is to take place?
The role of Shooter McGavin in this ever evolving Woods drama would certainly go to Ernie Els. Els has never won at Augusta, however, he certainly seems to be the favorite as of now. Els has repeatedly said he does not want to talk about Tiger in the days leading up to the match, leading many to believe he has shaken the mental hold that Woods seems to have over every other golfer in tour. Els has also won the last two PGA Tour events leading up to the tour (a strategy usually implored by Woods himself) and shows no signs of slowing down his progression toward winning a green jacket. Is it possible that at this point, Els is just going to outplay Woods?
The winner of course in all of this is Commissioner Tim Finchem and the PGA. If Woods comes out victorious Finchem will praise Woods as an individual who overcame adversity and reclaimed his dominance on the tour. If Tiger falters, Finchem (although he may not publicly admit it), as well as many others, will argue that just like when his father passed away and Tiger just wasn’t mentally capable of handling such a difficult task.
Make no mistake, it will be difficult. For once, The Masters will not be solely about golf. Instead it will be about entertainment, and it might not all be good. Yes, Tiger will still win more majors than Jack Nicklaus, but he probably won’t win this one. As far-fetched as it sounds, things might have to get even worse before they improve for Tiger Woods.