A Masters without Tiger Woods: The silver lining

Harry How

There's no denying the world's top-ranked player moves the needle when it comes to golf, but without his injuries and fruitless major-chasing as a distraction, the tournament that transcends the game can still shine. But will it?

There's no avoiding or sugarcoating it, this year's Masters will suffer without world No. 1 Tiger Woods.

In fact, it's already taken a substantial hit after news surfaced that the four-time green jacket winner underwent successful back surgery and would miss the event for the first time in his career. Falling ticket prices and dwindled interest have plagued the prestigious event as a result.

Masters ‘Scripting’

That's because Woods influences the game like no one else. During the weeks he plays, non-fans become casual ones, occasional viewers turn into die-hards and true fans morph into fanatics. The fact he won't tee it up to chase his 15th major victory is a huge loss for the tournament.

But despite that, The Masters has the ability to overcome it.

SB Nation's own Emily Kay accurately wrote the event won't be the same without Tiger. In fact, it's devastating, as former major winner and current ESPN analyst Paul Azinger put succinctly:

"There's probably not another player in the history of sports [who] has had as big an impact on his sport as Tiger, as far as viewership and ratings and money -- maybe Muhammad Ali in boxing," said Azinger. "I just can't think of anybody that, when he's not here, the void is any greater in any sport."

Those thoughts are right on the money. There is no single human being that has an effect on any one sport more than Woods has on golf. But if there's any golf tournament that has a chance to overcome the giant void left by his absence, it's this one.

In a sense, The Masters is the Tiger Woods of golf tournaments, and now that the Striped One is out of the mix, the greatest event the game has to offer can be the focus.

Without Tiger, it has to be.

Augusta National is golf's sacred ground, and once first ball is teed up, the lore of golf's Super Bowl will do its best to take over. Much like NASCAR'S Daytona 500, it signals the start of its sport's season. When Masters Sunday concludes, the golf floodgates open and there's excitement about the game among anyone who knows the difference between a fade and a push-slice.

Is Bad Tiger better than no Tiger?

Indeed, The Masters without Tiger will never be the same as with him, but there's a silver lining that's gone undermentioned as the throngs of analysts, journalists and golf fans lament his absence.

Getting past Tiger

Watching Woods struggle is hard to do.

Woods hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, and has gone without a green jacket since the 2005 journey around Augusta. Since the 2009 fall from grace and subsequent derailment of his game, the golf world hasn't seen the same player. Watching him struggle to the extent he has isn't the same as the classic dominance fans grew accustomed to in his heyday.

While he's won his share of professional events, he's still been a shell of his former self of late. That subject matter has been more of a distraction than an enhancement to the game.

There are essentially three types of folks who pay attention to what Woods is doing career-wise. Those who love him no matter what he does, those who hate him because of what he did and those who follow him when he's playing well to watch history.

The inevitable truth

Sooner rather than later, all three groups will have to find out whether or not they're fans of the game or Tiger-trackers.

The fact is we're closer to golf without Woods than ever before. Woods' best major won't feature him for the first time in his professional career, and that's a big deal. Now the business of figuring out how to cope without him -- whether he's loved, hated or something in between -- begins now.

The biggest issue is how the game will move on without him when the living legend trades in his golf shoes for flip-flops. The ratings are undeniably going to drop when he leaves for good since he helped them spike to astronomical metrics in the first place.

The 2014 Masters will be a litmus test of this ultimate certainty.

Woods has missed majors before, but this time around, the reality is closer that his days of dominance are likely over. Despite that, he expressed his usual positive outlook about what lies ahead via his official website:

"It's tough right now, but I'm absolutely optimistic about the future," Woods said. "There are a couple [of] records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I've said many times, Sam and Jack reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine."

Regardless of whether or not "a lot of years" means two or 12, Woods is on the back nine of the golf round that is his career. How we all move forward in the near-term will be a potential sign for what lies ahead.

The bottom line

Everything surrounding Woods over the past five years is just a constant series of questions. Those valid inquiries include, but certainly aren't limited to, the following:

  • Will he win another major?
  • Will he ever be healthy enough to dominate again?
  • Will his new swing hold up under pressure?
  • What's wrong with his putting stroke?
  • Is his body breaking down?
  • Will we ever see his genius again?

But the most important question of all is the one of what golf will look like when he's gone.

Of course the game will survive, but what will it all look like? The answers will start to take shape April 10 during golf's best chance to forget about Woods, if only one week.

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