Fifty years ago this week, Jack Nicklaus won the Masters, thereby equalling Arnold Palmer’s then record total of four green jackets. On Sunday, Tiger Woods will be hoping to match Nicklaus’s present record of six. Could he really do it? Or are those bookmakers who cut the odds on him winning to 50-1 behaving like invertebrates? He will apparently confirm his entry or otherwise nearer to Thursday.
A reminder. Woods has not played a ‘proper’ tournament since the 2020 Masters, the ‘Covid Masters’, which was delayed to November because of the pandemic. He finished in a tie for 38th. In April 2019, he had won the tournament to claim his 15th major championship. In October 2019, he won the Zozo Championship, tying Sam Snead’s tally of 82 PGA Tour titles. That was his last victory. In February 2021, he was almost killed after a car he was driving overturned at great speed while he was heading for a promotional shoot in Los Angeles. Last December, he played and finished runners-up with his then 12-year-old son, Charlie, in a comparatively celebrated ‘hit-and-giggle’ event, the PNC Championship, in which he was able to use a golf cart. You wouldn’t necessarily know it if you have not been to Augusta National but it is one of the most undulating courses known to golf…well, at least to major-championship golf. Let’s face it. Woods is ranked 973rd in the world and he has no chance.
The current world No. 1 is Scottie Scheffler. Heading into February, he had yet to win on the PGA Tour. Now he can hardly stop. He won in Phoenix, he won at Bay Hill, and the weekend before last he won the WGC/Dell Technologies Match Play tournament. He has played in the Masters twice, finishing tied 19th and tied 18th, but in the other majors last year he placed eighth at the USPGA, seventh at the US Open and eighth at the Open Championship. At the Ryder Cup last September, he saw off Jon Rahm, one of only two European players (the other being Sergio Garcia) to have a successful week and the man whom he replaced as No. 1, by 4&3 in the singles.
Scheffler is 25. Also in their mid-20s are the next three golfers in the rankings: Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. This does not mean that the game is becoming exclusively a young man’s sport – a year has not yet passed since the Lord Voldemort of Golf (“he who must not be named”), otherwise known as Phil Mickelson, became the oldest major champion when he won the USPGA aged 50 – but that would appear to be the direction in which things are moving, at least right now.
So the destiny of this year’s green jacket will likely lie among Scottie & Co. Forget about Tiger. I mean, the guy is 46. No one wins the Masters at 46. Let me just check on that…[pause]…oh yes, Jack Nicklaus did in 1986. Prior to that point of the season, he had entered seven tournaments, missed three cuts, withdrawn from another and his best finish had been a tie for 39th. Now, where’s my bookmaker’s account number?
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