By Steve Silverman
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The 2015 Masters is not about Tiger Woods.
Despite everything you have been reading and watching on television prior to the start of this year’s green-jacket tournament, Woods really has very little chance of winning the first major tournament of the year. And it’s probably just a little better than 50-50 that he will survive the cut and play all four rounds.
No, this tournament does not belong to Woods. It’s all about Rory McIlroy picking up his first Masters title, Bubba Watson defending his championship (and winning his third Masters in four years), Adam Scott figuring out a way to dominate the back nine on Sunday, and youngsters Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed making a run at their first major.
Woods hasn’t won a major tournament in seven years and he hasn’t picked up a green jacket in 10. Forget the scandal that damaged his reputation in 2009; Woods has simply had too many injuries and gone through too many swing changes to have a chance here.
The real hope for Woods is that he performs in an even-keel manner at the Masters and survives all four rounds. If he can come close to an even-par performance or maybe even two- or three-under par for his four-day jaunt through the azaleas, that’s a good jumping-off point for the rest of the golf season.
If he can survive Augusta, he should be able to return to action within a couple of weeks and build towards an improved performance at the U.S. Open in June.
Woods has been out of action since early February. Remember, he missed last year’s Masters following back surgery. He has competed in six PGA tournaments since his absence from Augusta last year, and his record has been the stuff of nightmares. He missed the cut in three of those tournaments, withdrew from two others and finished a painful 69th in the one event he finished.
Woods displayed a jovial attitude and a refreshed spirit when he met with the media Tuesday, and he spent much of his time talking about how hard he has worked to get his game back in shape since his last foray on the tour.
He says he is feeling good and ready to compete once again. But there’s quite a bit of difference between working on his game, refining his strokes, playing a few practice rounds and competing against the best players in the world in the first major of the season.
Woods wants to see if he can play four rounds without pain and injury, and if he can do that it would be a success. He’ll live to fight another day, and there’s a chance that he could win another major later in the year or perhaps in 2016.
But the days of domination are long over. McIlroy appears to be first in line to take the baton from Woods, if he hasn’t done that already. He has four major triumphs to his credit, and the only one that has eluded him is the Masters.
Watson has the kind of game that has allowed him to run the table at Augusta. While he can lose control from time to time, his scattershot tendencies disappear at the Masters. Even if he doesn’t win his third green jacket, he will almost certainly remain in contention throughout all four rounds.
Scott may just have the sweetest swing in the game, and he tends to rise to the occasion at the major tournaments. His 2013 playoff victory over Angel Cabrera was one of the most dramatic moments on the tour in recent years, and he has an excellent chance to win here if he can hit a few putts early and gain momentum.
Spieth and Reed have a chance to become the current generation’s stars. We’re not going to anoint them to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus status, but both have more talent and charisma than 95 percent of the pros on the tour.
The Masters is often the most dramatic event of the year. It’s the tournament that many players – including Woods, Watson and Phil Mickelson – dreamed of winning when they first aspired to play on the tour.
The memory of Nicklaus turning back the clock and winning in 1986 is still top of mind for many golf fans when it comes to incredible finishes at the Masters.
This time around, McIlroy, Scott, Bubba or Spieth could come up with the highlight that lasts a lifetime. But it won’t come from Woods. He’s simply got too much to overcome to make a run at anything but a middle-of-the-pack finish.