TIGER, CAN HE WIN? WILL HE WIN?
Tiger has made a great start to his comeback but can he outclass the superb Masters field?
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