Tiger has made a great start to his come­back but can he out­class the su­perb Masters field?

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENT -

The Masters or­gan­is­ers have their craft down to a fine art with the bloom­ing aza­leas and dog­woods and all of that fishy water on Au­gusta Na­tional. The cad­dies in white jump­suits, or “boiler suits” as they call them. The pa­trons, not spec­ta­tors, heaven for­bid. The US$1.50 pi­mento cheese sand­wiches. The trea­cly, rather aw­ful, theme song. But this year re­ally looks like it could be some­thing spe­cial, some­thing far above and beyond the usual great­ness.

The big­gest rea­son, of course, is the re­turn of the big­gest name in the game: Tiger Woods. There are many among us, in­clud­ing this mag­a­zine, who wor­ried that Tiger's com­pet­i­tive days were over, due to his prob­lem­atic back and all the emo­tional scars from the tur­bu­lence in his life since 2009. Yet, he seems like a dif­fer­ent per­son now, un­bur­dened, less eva­sive and, well, happy. He's play­ing very well, too. In his last two tour­na­ments, he's fin­ished T2 and T5.

We have been a big fan of his game, so we are very happy that he ap­pears to be back. Even the Tiger haters ad­mit that the Masters just feels like a bet­ter and fuller tour­na­ment when he's there, and espe­cially when he's in the hunt. Then of course there are the eco­nom­ics of the sport. They siz­zle when Tiger is on course and the TV.

But Tiger isn't the only rea­son for the ex­cite­ment this year. Not even close. Af­ter a few PGA TOUR sea­sons with a lot of ran­dom, first­time win­ners, the cream has risen to the top this year, with tour­na­ment win­ners like Ja­son Day, Dustin John­son, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Bubba Wat­son, Rory McIl­roy and Phil Mick­el­son all play­ing ex­tremely well at the mo­ment.

That's an in­cred­i­ble list of pos­si­ble Masters con­tenders. There are oth­ers, too: Jor­dan Spi­eth has ad­mit­ted that he's strug­gling a bit, but his game is just so well-suited to Au­gusta. And, of course, there's the de­fend­ing cham­pion, Ser­gio Gar­cia.

We think most of these play­ers will hang around and be within strik­ing dis­tance come Sun­day?

Imag­ine if just a hand­ful of them are?

Imag­ine a back nine late on Sun­day af­ter­noon that in­cludes Mick­el­son, in his Gary Player-like black-shirt, grey-pants look, hit­ting loopy flop shots from im­pos­si­ble lies; Bubba lankily hit­ting his pink driver as hard as he can, no mat­ter the sit­u­a­tion; Spi­eth, play­ing slowly as usual, talk­ing over things with his caddy, Michael Greller, grind­ing over ev­ery shot.

Ja­son Day, squinty, twitchy, pulling at the top of his shirt and throw­ing the ten­sion out of his arms be­fore he sets up over the ball; Rory, nose up, strid­ing briskly af­ter an ap­proach that's stopped two feet from the hole; Tiger in his tra­di­tional Sun­day red, with that far­away stare, sweat­ing, tak­ing off his hat to wipe his brow with the back of his wrist.

Now this will be a scene that, if set some­thing like this, will be a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Even though the Masters isn't one of its of­fi­cial events, the PGA TOUR has to be tick­led about all of this. Ex­ec­u­tives at ESPN and CBS, which share the tele­vi­sion broad­cast (CBS gets the fi­nal two rounds, of course), must be too.

So, the big ques­tion: Who is go­ing to win? If Tiger won It would be one of the big­gest sports sto­ries in his­tory - the rise, fall and rise again of ar­guably the great­est golfer of all time. It looked for a while like Tiger was fol­low­ing the Michael Jack­son route - grow­ing up in a bub­ble, un­real suc­cess and world fame and the re­sul­tant dis­con­nec­tion, and a tawdry, painful end.

We are not con­vinced, how­ever, that he's quite there yet. There is a huge tra­verse be­tween a cou­ple of re­cent top tens and ac­tu­ally win­ning that he needs to close out. His driver doesn't seem all that re­li­able again right now, although his short game is close to awe­some.

But just watch. One thing that's so great about sports is its ut­ter un­pre­dictabil­ity. With all of those big names play­ing well com­ing in, some rel­a­tive no-name might just sneak in and snatch the green jacket, just as Mike Weir, Trevor Im­mel­man and Danny Wil­lett all once did.

I have a feel­ing that even if that hap­pens, it won't di­min­ish the spec­ta­cle one bit. FI­NALLY, WHAT ABOUT THE PRIZE MONEY? When this ar­ti­cle was drafted the 2018 Masters purse was set for US$11 mil­lion, with the win­ner's share com­ing in at $1,980,000. This is the stan­dard 18 per­cent pay­out ac­cord­ing to the US PGA TOUR's prize money dis­tri­bu­tion chart.

How­ever, the Masters is one of the small­est fields on the US PGA TOUR to have a 36-hole cut. The top 50 and ties make the 36-hole cut, mean­ing play­ers who make the cut make a lit­tle more money as a share of the purse com­pared to nor­mal PGA TOUR events. Ev­ery player af­ter 50th place earns prize money start­ing at $26,620 for 51st place and go­ing down. Those who miss the cut still get $10,000.

The stated purse and pay­out is based on what's re­ported by the PGA TOUR. How­ever, Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club an­nounces the purse the week of the tour­na­ment, and it could raise the purse to match or sur­pass the US Open, which has a $12 mil­lion purse and is the rich­est in the game.

In that case, the win­ner's share would be­come US$2,160,000.

When this ar­ti­cle was drafted the 2018 Masters purse was set for US$11 mil­lion, with the win­ner's share com­ing in at $1,980,000. This is the stan­dard 18 per­cent pay­out ac­cord­ing to the US PGA TOUR's prize money dis­tri­bu­tion chart

Rory McIl­roy.

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