Tiger Woods' absence from Masters greeted mostly with shrugs

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The slow and awkward decay of the powerful aura of Tiger Woods continued here Tuesday on a rain-soaked golfing cathedral that smelled like a damp towel.

For the first time in 20 years, Woods will not be here for the Masters, a tournament he has won four times, his virtual ownership of Augusta National symbolizing his decades of dominance.

Yet his fellow golfers do not sound relieved. They do not act as if reprieved. They spoke of this giant, haunting presence with neither fear nor reverence.

Their voices were, instead, filled with something that sounded like pity.

"He's 38 now, he's an old man," said Jason Day, the media laughing over the fact that this is truly how Woods is perceived. "It's a little sad seeing him hurt."

Tiger Woods, old and sad? He is missing the tournament with a bad back, but it is his legacy that is taking a beating this week among younger golfers who clearly view him as an aging, infirm uncle whose absence at the family picnic is a footnote that will be forgotten with the first sack race.

"It's a shame … 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," Justin Rose said. "It's a shame."

Tiger Woods, a shame? It's amazing that someone who just won the PGA Tour player-of-the-year award in 2013 could be viewed with so many sympathetic shrugs, but such is the depth of the erosion of Woods' intimidation.

When Woods completed the Tiger Slam at the height of his powers in 2000-2001, some of today's stars were just teenagers. They don't remember the unbeatable presence. They forget how he could carry a weekend.

"Well, I think it's changed now," said Jordan Spieth, 20, one of a record 24 players competing in their first Masters. "I was not out here when [Woods] was as dominant as he was percentage-wise …but I know that now with the younger guys not being scared to win, I think that can only be better for the game."

Imagine that. The downfall of the player who singularly changed golf forever is being viewed as good for the game? When asked how badly the tournament will miss Woods, one player spoke of him not in terms of great golf, but mere glitter.

"Having Tiger in a tournament definitely creates more buzz, more of an atmosphere," said Rory McIlroy, who was only 11 during Woods' greatest year. "As a player, it doesn't really make any difference."

McIlroy wondered if, by the end of the tournament, folks will even remember that Woods was never here.

"I think people will miss him at the start of the week, but by the end of the week, when it comes down to who is going to win the golf tournament, it will produce a lot of excitement," he said. "Will he be missed then by the fans? I'm not sure."

This is what happens, perhaps, when you shut out the world on your climb to greatness. It is well known that Woods has few friends on tour. There are even fewer, if any, young players who have benefited from his mentorship. He is followed by hordes of fans, but he rarely acknowledges them. When it came time for someone to say the Masters would really miss one of its greatest competitors, when the opportunity arose for someone to say they would miss Woods personally, it was as quiet as the 18th green before a Sunday putt.

The players even took thinly veiled shots at Woods' famed workout regimen, which many now believe has led to his many injuries. For years, other golfers were criticized for not looking as athletic as Woods. This week, behind pursed lips and shaking heads, they are having the last laugh.

"For guys like Tiger ... guys that keep themselves in really good shape, it almost seems like they are more prone to injury," Steve Stricker said. "It's the guys that continually pound the balls and continually hit the gym that sometimes seem to have some of the issues."

One of the few people to stand up for Woods was, ironically, the one person that Woods has spent his career attempting to knock down.

"It's as weird feeling not having him here, isn't it?" Phil Mickelson said. "It's awkward to not have him here. I hope he gets back soon."

Mickelson then offered at least a reason that Woods was missed. It was a monetary reason, but a reason nonetheless.

"Look what he's done for the game the last 17 years, it's been incredible. Nobody has benefited more from having Tiger in the game than myself," said Mickelson, citing the incredible rise in purses because of the attention attracted by Woods. "It's unbelievable … what has happened with the growth of this game. And Tiger has been the instigator."

Yet now that he is at least temporarily gone from its biggest event, they will keep cashing his presence-inspired paychecks and shrugging.

One of the nicer things said about Woods came from Stricker, who said, "The tournament, I'm sure, is going to miss him. ... We need him back healthy and playing good again."

Stricker was talking about the attention Woods attracts, not the connection he brings. He was talking about the money, not about the man.

Maybe some of those guys are right. Maybe it really is sad, and a shame.


Twitter: @billplaschke

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