Tiger Woods will end his indefinite hiatus from the PGA TOUR at this year’s Masters Tournament at Augusta National. It marks the first tournament that the world’s greatest golfer will play in since the unraveling of his private life to the tabloid and national media after his Thanksgiving night accident. How does it change the landscape of the 2010 PGA TOUR season?
The PGA season has been exciting with a few young players taking advantage of Woods’ absence. But, has Woods really left our minds? It seemed every week there was something – gossip or news – that brought Woods into the PGA conversation. Woods was not really a part of January golf on the PGA TOUR for the last few years, so he was not missed from a tournament standpoint. But, when play came to Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, the talk of Woods’ return took center stage. Rumors of when, where and how (well he played) were flying around every event in February and March. But, the 2010 PGA TOUR season has been a successful campaign since teeing off at the SBS Championship in Hawaii in January. The TOUR has seen some tremendous golf with many young stars winning for the first time in over a year.
It started off with Geoff Ogilvy successfully defending his title at the SBS Championship, followed by young players Ryan Palmer and Bill Haas grabbing impressive wins at the Sony Open and Bob Hope Classic, respectively. Ben Crane won at Torrey Pines to take home the Farmers Insurance Open, where the tournament started with talk of Tiger’s dramatic win at the U. S. Open at Torrey Pines two years prior. Steve Stricker then won the Northern Trust Open and took over the number two spot on the Official World Golf Rankings from Phil Mickelson, who has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start finishing outside of the top 10 in four of five events.
Talk of Woods’ return picked up when the PGA rolled into Pebble Beach for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, site of the 2010 U. S. Open. Dustin Johnson, one of the bright young stars of the PGA, won at Pebble Beach. Then, the first World Golf Championship event the Accenture Match Play Championship. This is the first big event of the season, bringing the top 65 players in the world to play match play format for five days. Woods, who made his return in 2009 at this event, scheduled his first public statement on the Friday of the event, stealing some headlines from the course. It is important to note that Accenture was the first sponsor to drop Woods after his accident. Ian Poulter was not bothered by the press conference as the Englishman cruised to his first WGC title.
Hunter Mahan, the American star of the 2008 Ryder Cup, won the next week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Then, Camilo Villegas followed up his third place finish at the Accenture Match Play Championship with his first win in over a year at the Honda Classic. Both Mahan and Villegas are leaders of the next wave of great players that will shape the future of the PGA TOUR.
Rumors picked up the week of the second WGC event – the CA Championship – about Woods making his comeback at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an event close to his Orlando home. As Ernie Els celebrated his first win in two years at the CA Championship, Woods ended all speculation and announced he will play at the Masters.
How will Woods play at the Masters?
The players are excited to have Woods back between the ropes…as well they should with all the attention Woods normally brings. But, are they happy that he is coming back at the first major championship of the year? None will say. The new chaos that Woods will bring to an event in 2010 will be subdued at the Masters. But, for Woods, it only makes sense that he would make his return to golf at the Masters, a place he has won four times. It is an event like no other. The Augusta National leaders run the event and tickets are hard to come by, even for media. It will provide Woods a safe haven in terms of having to deal with tabloid media and non-golf fans.
Can Woods win? Without a doubt. The Augusta National course did not go under any major renovations in the off season. It should play very similar to last year’s event, one that Woods finished finished sixth.
Will Woods win? We will see come Sunday, April 11th…
Image credit: Paddy Briggs