The most talked-about golfer heading into the Masters is one who has not been in a tournament since August and who will not play this week.
Tiger Woods is in magazines, tweets, conversations — everywhere but golf courses, while the next generation of golf stars prepares to begin the season’s first major championship.
Woods announced on his web site Friday night that because of his long recovery process from back surgeries he will not be playing at Augusta National this week, and while citing progress, he doesn’t know when he will play again.
His absence has made him a significant presence, starting with the cover of the current Sports Illustrated. The cover and the story inside both have the headline “What Happened?” to deal with the golfer who made his first major impact with a decisive Masters victory 19 years ago and whose life made a severe turn with the crash outside his home on Thanksgiving night 2009.
The article points out that the odds-defying 2005 chip shot that helped Woods to his fourth green jacket had a profound inspiring effect on defending Masters champion Jordan Spieth, then an 11-year-old Little League pitcher. It made him fall in love with golf.
Chris DiMarco, now an analyst for Golf Channel, lost that 2005 tournament in a playoff against Woods. Referring to it during a pre-Masters conference call this week, the Long Island native said, “I had one sleeve in the jacket. But that guy was a chipper.”
A digital update from Golf Digest on Thursday included a tongue-in-cheek list of 10 ways Masters week might go for Woods. “Option 8: Woods flies to Augusta, spends the whole week hanging out with John Daly at Hooters, never makes it to the club.” (We said “tongue- in-cheek,” not “side-splitting.”)
Woods stoked Twitter flames when he sent out a teaser about a possible comeback this past week. But he was referring to the fact that the winter PGA Tour stop at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles now will be affiliated with the Tiger Woods Foundation and that he always plays in his foundation’s events.
University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma had this to say to critics who suggest his team is so dominant that the sport has become boring: “When Tiger Woods was playing golf, nobody said he ruined the game of golf. In fact, Tiger was good for the game. He made everyone else play better.”
By far the most extensive treatment of Woods early this year has come from his former caddie Steve Williams in the new book, “Out of the Rough.” Williams offers abundant praise for Woods about all his victories with the author on his bag. But the man who was fired by Woods in 2011 was blunt about being shut out.
“While his sexual shenanigans had pulled at the edges of our personal relationship by breaking the bonds of trust we’d built over 12 years,” Williams wrote, “there was no reason why we couldn’t be civil to each other and share stories about our families — families who were once so close that we took holidays together.”
Williams will be caddying for Adam Scott this week. Woods will be at Augusta National, though he won’t be playing it. Yet he’ll still be in everyone’s thoughts.