Golf desperately needs the Masters spectacle that only Tiger Woods can create

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Even during dress rehearsals, Tiger Woods can stir up dirt at Augusta National like no one else. He spent his time training as a master wowing his fellow pros with his ability to hit the long ball and shoot darts at the flags, and remind everyone how desperately the game needs from him.

Thousands upon thousands of fans followed her every move on Monday and Wednesday, with Tuesday’s heavy rains interrupting the celebration of love, and it all made for a remarkable and chilling scene at the same time.

Remarkable, of course, because Woods could have been killed when he wrecked his SUV south of Los Angeles not even 14 months ago, and could have lost his right leg to the grotesque injuries he sustained. .

Scary because the practice round visuals proved once again how badly the game of golf needs a scarred, battered 46-year-old who moves through this arena with the limp of an old man.

When Woods first arrived in college in the mid-1990s, golf was a fringe country club sport, best known for its shameful history of exclusion. Woods changed everything, obliterating the field with unprecedented power and precision. With the muscles and massive appeal of Arnold Palmer, and the determination and skills of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger became the first golfer to be considered the most recognizable athlete in the world.

The game rode that wave and held its own through scandal, ops, roadside police video, other ops, and even the accident. Golf would never become as popular as football, baseball and basketball in this country, but Tiger Woods made it feel, at times, as big as the NFL’s Biggest Sunday. There was real hope that a new generation of athletes – inspired by Woods – would abandon fields, diamonds and courts in favor of fairways and greens to take golf to greater heights.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods takes the start of the Masters
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Even though the Rory McElroys, Brooks Koepkas and Dustin Johnsons brought more athleticism to the game, that revolution didn’t happen. Kobe Bryant and then LeBron James were there to carry the NBA after Michael Jordan took his ball and went home. Golf has its share of up-and-coming young players, but I don’t see Kobes or LeBrons.

I don’t see any Tigers either, other than the one who thinks he can win this tournament on one leg.

Once upon a time, I didn’t think a superstar golfer could be bigger than the Masters itself. Augusta National is Wrigley Field meets Fenway Park, the only major championship venue that never changes and never disappoints. The feeling of sunshine and the sight of the greenest grass and whitest sand can have a profound restorative impact on a northeast worn down by another long winter.

But Woods proved me wrong. I’ve covered the Masters with and without him on the course, and the difference in experience is the difference between a dusty, motley par-3 at your local muni and the 12th hole at Amen Corner.

While practicing on the seventh hole on Monday, Jon Rahm saw the gallery follow the group of Woods, Fred Couples and Justin Thomas walking into the second hole and said: “I have never seen such a large mass, even a Sunday in contention.” Thomas, one of the best players on the planet, walked along this gallery for nine holes and said: “I asked some friends to send me pictures [Monday] night, and probably more people than ever saw me play a trick at Augusta National, and they weren’t there to watch me.

Tiger Woods
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Tiger Woods takes the course in Augusta.
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They were there to watch Tiger because even at this age, and even in this state, he transcends everything in the game he plays. In other words, no sport has ever needed an athlete more than golf has needed and needs Tiger Woods.

Jordan elevated professional basketball globally, but Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had already saved the NBA from late-night delayed irrelevance in the pre-MJ era long before Kobe and LeBron dominated. the post-MJ social media era. Tom Brady helped notarize the NFL as TV must-haves, but Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes have come behind him as improvisational geniuses at pro football’s most visible position.

Nick Faldo and Greg Norman preceded Woods, and McIlroy, DJ and Jordan Spieth came in late in his opener. Legit stars, no doubt, but as champions and public figures not in Tiger’s longest par five.

“On Monday, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Couples said Wednesday. “I was in the last group here, I won here. … I have pictures [from Monday] which I would probably have invented. They are not about me. This is just the gallery people sent me… [from] No. 8, No. 7 way around the corner, and there’s [fans] 10 deep.

“So they wanted to see the big guy, and they saw him and they saw good golf. … It was amazing.

And scary at the same time. So at 10:34 a.m. Thursday morning, when the 15-time major champion and 82-time Tour winner tees off with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann, the entire golfing world will stop, watch, and roar.

This sport will retain Tiger Woods for as long as possible because there is no one else like him who comes close from the back.