AUGUSTA – The breakdown is simple: It’s every logical argument vs. one resume.
Logic says Tiger Woods can’t do it. The resume says, “Tiger Woods can’t” are words that don’t co-exist.
Phil Mickelson said, “That’s a crazy question to ask: Can he win?”
Steve Stricker said, “You wonder how he competed at such a high level with all of this stuff going on. It’s actually scary to think if he gets his mind a little bit freer and uncluttered that he could be better.”
Fred Couples skillfully argued both sides: “It would be crazy for me to say he’s not going to do well, but it would be crazy for me to say he’s the guy to beat because he hasn’t played a competitive round of golf in five months.”
Golf’s re-examination of Tiger Woods officially opens Thursday. The Masters will have to settle for second billing for now.
The membership of Augusta National doesn’t want to hear that. But round one is about Woods. If he plays great, he’s the story. If he sprays tee shots into the pine straw, he’s the story. If he shoots par after five relatively golf-less months dominated by TMZ, the National Enquirer, “sex addiction” therapy, please-PLEASE-erase-your-name-from-your-phone-machine messages, “sexting” transcripts and even a verbal slap by one Billy Payne, the golf world will marvel.
Every sports book has Woods as the favorite. Never mind that he hasn’t played a competitive round since November. Never mind that his practice partner, Mark O’Meara, puts his game at “75 to 80 percent.” Never mind that Woods needs to lease storage space for all of the clutter in his cranium.
The alleged mistress count hit 16 on the eve of the tournament with a report that he had an affair with the 21-year-old daughter of his neighbor in Isleworth Country Club. This would be a new low.
Even Payne uncharacteristically felt compelled to admonish Woods during his annual state-of-us news conference Wednesday. He labeled Woods’ conduct “egregious.” He added that “his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but by the sincerity of his efforts to change. I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing but would settle for his smile.” Ouch.
Then again, this is Tiger Woods. How many competitors have shown greater resolve?
His game is rusty. He didn’t have a warm-up event before his first real return to golf, which just happens to be the sport’s biggest stage. He wouldn’t even play in the two-day Tavistock Cup on his home course two weeks ago because he feared he wasn’t physically ready. (Not physically ready for an exhibition?)
Then again, this is Tiger Woods. He won the U.S. Open in 2008 on a knee that required reconstructive surgery immediately afterward. So what constitutes physical readiness?
His personal life is falling apart. He can’t possibly bounce back so quickly from public humiliation and function on a mentally challenging golf course, knowing every fan who is watching knows so many lurid details of his life. His wife isn’t here. There was a better chance of Elin Nordegren grilling steaks and mixing margaritas for her battalion of divorce attorneys than showing up at Augusta National to play the good wife. This isn’t an election. Besides, she doesn’t need to be here to collect his winnings.
Then again, this is Tiger Woods. He never has experienced humiliation like this. But in 2006, he finished third in the Masters, even while his father, Earl Woods, was nearing death. After Earl’s passing, Woods missed the cut at the U.S. Open, but he followed with wins in the British, the PGA and his final six tournaments of the season. Does that say something about his mental toughness?
He’s still Tiger Woods.
He is still Tiger Woods, isn’t he?
“The fact I haven’t really played at all, that’s a little bit concerning,” Woods said the other day. “I’m hoping to get my feel back quickly — feel for the game, feel for shots, feel for how my body is reacting and what my distances are going to be. I hope I get that back relatively quickly. Hopefully, it’s the first hole. If not, please hope it’s the second hole.”
Those words don’t convey confidence. But can you say, “Tiger Woods can’t,” and feel comfortable?
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