It’s that time again. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur has finished up (shout-out to Anna Davis) and we are mere days from the start of the 2022 Masters.
This year, the buzz in the run-up to the tournament has been somewhat muted. A lot has been going on in the golf world: continual drama around the upstart Saudi-backed golf league, Phil Mickelson’s stunning fall from grace, and new steps taken by the governing bodies toward a future equipment rollback.
But over the past several days, those topics have been chased from the headlines by news of a potential Tiger Woods comeback. Woods has not played in an official event since he nearly lost his leg in a car accident in February 2021. But last week we heard that he was putting in serious prep at Medalist Golf Club in South Florida, and #TigerWatch2022 began. On Sunday morning, Woods tweeted that his participation will be a “game-time decision.” He is scheduled to give a press conference at Augusta National on Tuesday at 11 a.m. local time.
To discuss this storyline and more, Shane Bacon, co-host of Golf Channel’s Golf Today and host of the recently revived Get A Grip podcast, joined Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg Podcast.
Andy’s Five Things
With all the focus on Tiger’s surgically repaired leg, what about his back? I kid, I kid. I don’t really know what more there is to say than this: just over a year ago, many were wondering whether Tiger Woods would walk again. Now he may play in the 2022 Masters. This is obviously the top storyline for this year’s tournament and deservedly so. If he plays, we should keep expectations low, but Tiger has shown over and over that you can never predict what will happen when he tees it up. For more on this subject, I’ll refer you to Brendan Porath’s piece from last week.
Tiger Woods warming up on the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National. Photo: Chris Trotman / Augusta National
Famously, since 1935, Fuzzy Zoeller has been the only player to win the Masters on his first try. But today, the best professional golfers are younger than ever. For the first time in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking, the entire top five is under the age of 30. With this boom in youthful talent, something has to budge. Among those making their Masters debuts this week will be Sam Burns, who is No. 11 in the world. It’s rare for such a highly ranked player to be making his first trip around Augusta National, and Burns has more than enough game to contend.
A JT breakthrough
Justin Thomas has a lot going for him this week. For one thing, his skill set is a great match for Augusta National. He has plenty of length, a vast arsenal of shot shapes, elite abilities with his irons, and a killer short game. Plus, he has been incredibly impressive this year. He has racked up four top-eight finishes in six stroke-play starts, with his worst performance, a T-33, coming at the Players Championship, where he got an unlucky weather draw. Thomas’s run has been fueled by a tee-to-green performance that ranks third on the PGA Tour. What has held him back has been his inconsistency with the flatstick. When his putting has been passable, his tee-to-green game hasn’t been quite as good, and on weeks when his ball-striking has been off the charts, his putter has been cold. If he puts it all together at Augusta National, he could run away from the field.
The next major-championship alpha
With all the hubbub around the Saudi league, Phil’s meltdown, and Tiger’s return, it’s easy to forget that Collin Morikawa is our most recent men’s major champion. The former Cal Berkeley standout has taken the golf world by storm since the PGA Tour’s return from the Covid-19 pandemic. He has won four events since July 2020, all against stacked fields, and two of them major championships. Granted, since the beginning of the year, Morikawa has been in what, for him, qualifies as a slump. But he had a T-2 at Riviera, and his putting has been stronger than ever. Besides, the 25-year-old simply has a knack for showing up when it matters most.
Scanning the OWGR, you have to scroll down pretty far before you land on a player you’d be surprised to see win the Masters this week. Yes, a few highly ranked players are awkward “course fits” for Augusta National—Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner—but really you have to get to the 30s before you find genuine dark horses. This speaks to the depth of great ball-strikers on tour today. All of them hit it so well that they are just a hot putter away from contending anywhere.
Shane’s Five Things
Historical comparisons for Tiger’s potential return
“If he’s just around like Jack was in ’98—and to me that’s the comp. It’s not Jack in ’86. It’s Jack in ’98 when Jack found a way into the top 10 coming off Tiger’s win in ’97. It’s kind of the one we forget about, that Jack actually had a chance to win the Masters in ’98, which is so silly to think about. But that’s the comp: if Tiger gets in contention, simply making the cut is a storyline on the weekend. I think we will remember this probably not as much as ’19, but we will remember ’22 as much as maybe three of his wins at the Masters.”
Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters
Scottie Scheffler—more than a hot streak
“Scottie Scheffler’s major résumé to this point is astonishingly good. This is a guy who has routinely found himself in the top 10 on the leaderboards, and I think sleeping on Scottie Scheffler at this point is almsot an idiotic move from anybody involved in and around golf. You have to think this guy has a great chance to get himself in contention. He’s done it at almost every major championship he’s played in. So when we look past the Rorys, look past the Rahms, and look past the Koepkas, there’s a guy standing right here in front of us that has the potential to be Collin Morikawa come October of 2022.”
The year of Langer?
“It’s an even year this year, and [64-year-old Bernhard Langer has] had a lot of success recently in even years. Langer, 2014—T-8. 2016—T-24. 2018—T-38. 2020—T-29. It’s 2022, baby. This is the year. I think Langer gets himself back in contention. I want Langer-Tiger paired together on Saturday or Sunday. Let’s just completely bulldoze the youth movement with these two guys at Augusta National. It’s 2022. It’s an even year. I like his chances of continuing the trend.”
Rory’s ongoing search for the code
“Rory McIlroy is doing the complete opposite of what Tiger used to do in majors. Tiger would use the first round to feel out his game, the golf course, and how this was going to play—because majors are different, right? They play tougher typically, especially at Augusta National. It’s asking different questions than every tournament is asking, and the first round shouldn’t be a place where you feel like you need to go out and get it. You need to go out there and not shoot yourself in the foot. And Rory has shot himself in the foot [recently]. For Rory, even par should be the goal, man.”
The apprenticeship is over
“There’s a reason Tiger has kind of brought [Justin Thomas] into his camp. There’s a reason Tiger travels to Augusta with Justin Thomas. It’s because I think he sees so much of himself in him. His game when he was in his 20s—I think he sees a lot of JT there, and I feel like it’s time for JT to step up, because he needs to do it now or he’s going to truly become the forgotten major player, which is sad. He doesn’t need to be that. He doesn’t need to be the guy who has one major when he’s 35 years old. This is the place it needs to start happening.”
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