AUGUSTA — As bad as Tiger Woods back must hurt to keep him out of this week’s Masters, this has to sting more:
“I’ve been watching this golf tournament ever since I was a little kid watching Tiger Woods win around here,” 26-year-old Australian Jason Day said. “Tiger, I mean Tiger’s been around for so long.”
Woods, the winner of 14 major championships and four green jackets, announced last week he won’t play in the 2014 Masters after having back surgery. It’s the latest in a long list of injuries for the world’s No. 1 player and game’s biggest draw.
“He’s 38 now. He’s an old man,” Day said with a laugh. “It’s a little sad seeing him hurt. He’s such a huge part to the game. He’s changed the way we look at golf as professionals. I was talking earlier about having strength coaches and mental coaches. I mean, there were some guys before his time that were doing that kind of stuff, but he’s turned the sport into an athletic sport.”
Woods’ devotion to that athleticism might be hurting him now, friend Steve Stricker said.
“I think just our body is not meant to take that rotation on a daily basis over an extended period of time, and something’s going to give, especially as you get older,” Stricker said. “Guys that keep themselves in really good shape, it almost seems like they are more prone to injury, whether they don’t give their bodies a rest or a break; you don’t see too many overweight guys or guys that don’t take as good of care get hurt, for whatever reason.”
Woods finished tied for 80th at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, withdrew from The Honda Class in early March and finished tied for 25th the next week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
“Tiger can switch it on, but also with his form running into this week, I don’t think people would have said that he was the red-hot favorite as he was in years past,” Englishman Justin Rose said. “It’s a shame. Obviously, for him on a personal level, it’s never nice having to watch the tournament when you’re banged up and hurt a little bit. So, no doubt, it will just fire him up even more for the rest of the year.”
Adam Scott’s path to a second consecutive green jacket became clearer with Woods’ exit, but Scott still calls it a “huge loss” for the tournament.
“But it’s the nature of sports, and guys get injured and it’s an unfortunate timing for that,” Scott said. “But, as every year here, this event produces something special no matter what. It just has a way of doing it, and it’s not going to involve Tiger this year, but it will involve someone else and it will be a memorable event anyway.”
Whether Woods can rebound from this to match or surpass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors is a question that hangs over this event and will hang over Woods until he provides the answer.
“We’re all going to miss him here,” Stricker said. “The tournament, I’m sure, is going to miss him. We need him back. For sure, we need him back, and playing golf and being healthy, and I think that’s the biggest thing is to get him back healthy.”