The Masters does not begin until the back nine on Sunday.
The saying is as synonymous to the year's first major as the green jacket worn by past and future champions. While its validity can be debated, let’s assume it still holds true for the sake of this article.
Our little assumption means Tiger Woods will technically not play at the 2010 Masters.
You can go to any website that covers golf and see he is playing with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar on Thursday at 1:42 p.m., and again on Friday at 10:35 a.m.
But when Tiger plays poorly, and misses the cut, he will never have the opportunity to play the back nine on Sunday, and according to the old saying, his tournament will never begin.
That’s right, the world’s best golfer will be told, “Sorry bud, you’re not good enough to play here for the weekend. And um, there won’t be a check in the mail. But uh, thanks for showing up and trying.”
It is hard to imagine someone who has won this event four times, holds numerous records, and has never finished lower than 22nd as a professional, will miss the cut.
Making the cut at the Masters is certainly not the most daunting task. The top 44 players, including ties, and players within 10 shots of the lead advance to the weekend.
With this is mind, it almost seems impossible for Tiger to miss the cut. His career average as a professional is 70.5. Let’s assume he goes 71-70, and holds true to his average. This means 44 other golfers need to be sitting at four-under par or better, and the leader has to cruise in with a tidy little 14-under to send Tiger home.
That seems next to impossible, since the lowest 36-hole total posted during Tiger’s professional career by anyone in the field is 10-under par. And the lowest cut during this time was one-over par.
Tiger probably has to shoot something in the neighborhood of 74-74 (148) to miss the cut. It may sound unlikely, but I believe it is going to happen.
He has only broken par five times in the first round of the Masters, and has never shot in the 60s during the opening round. He tries to grind out the first round and keep himself in contention. He plays with the mindset that you cannot win the golf tournament on the first day, it can only be lost.
The approach is perfect. He will value pars, and accept birdies and possibly an eagle when they present themselves. He will not force the issue. He will try to stay within himself and play “his game.”
The only problem is that his game will not match his mindset and approach.
When you value par so highly and do not seek out birdies, you are going to force yourself to make clutch par putts throughout the day. Five-foot par putts will be more common than makeable birdies. Gut wrenching up-and-downs will be the norm, while opportunities to make an eagle will be foreign.
There is nothing wrong with this, and Tiger’s game is built for this type of play. He loves to make clutch par putts, and he has repeatedly told us that a par putt can be more important than a birdie putt, because it keeps the momentum of the round going.
All of this means the pressure will fall onto Tiger’s ability to make putts. And with his current off-course issues and his lack of competition this year, I don’t understand how he can constantly make five-footers for par in the first two rounds. Augusta demands the most from your touch on and around the green.
You can’t stroll up to Augusta National and expect to putt well without playing under the gun since November 15, 2009. That’s nearly a five month break from competitive golf. Stuff like that doesn’t happen.
The last time he missed significant action on the Tour was back in 2006 following the death of his father, Earl. One can’t compare the tragic loss of a parent with a sex scandal. But one can argue that both events have affected or will affect his ability to perform well enough to make the cut at a major.
When Tiger’s father passed away on May 3, 2006, Tiger took a nine-week break, and finally returned to play in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. On greens that were downright diabolical, Tiger missed numerous putts, and for the first time in his professional career he missed the cut at a major.
Winged Foot presented more challenges than just the greens. Players had to deal with thick rough, and insanely long holes. Truth be told, August National does not stack up in difficulty when compared to a U.S. Open venue. But the course has certainly become more difficult over the years, thanks to added heightened rough, lengthened tee boxes, tightened fairways, and a couple of trees scattered throughout the course.
After Tiger obliterated the field by 12 shots in 1997, Augusta National began the arduous task of “Tiger Proofing” the course. The final changes were made in 2006, and Tiger has not won since.
I know a four-year drought should not be considered anything too significant, especially since his finishes were tied for third, tied for second, second, and tied for sixth. But his stroke average during that stretch is 71.15, which is nearly an entire shot higher than his career average. His first round scoring average is 71.75, and his second round average is 72. This further proves that Augusta National has become a more difficult track, even for the world’s No.1 golfer.
Tiger must now try to make the cut at a course that has become more difficult for him over the years. And he is going to attempt to make the cut after taking nearly five months off due to an incredibly distracting off-course incident.
Tiger has defied logic throughout his career. But can he defy it once again? And can he do it at a major?
His track record says yes, but his putter will say no.