2018 Masters Tournament Preview

The Tiger Woods Effect

With Tiger Woods returning to Augusta after missing the last two Masters, a lot of golf fans wonder why there is so much fascination with him. Many even question The Golf Channel's almost incessant coverage of the former number one player in the world.

It isn't just fans and networks that seem to have an obsession with Tiger. At this week's press conferences, a large number of players found it necessary to comment on his return to the game and his long-term impact. Even Phil Mickelson, after teaming with Woods in a practice round drubbing of Fred Couples and Thomas Pieters, complimented his partner on what Woods has meant to golf and Mickelson's career. To put those comments in perspective, we need to take a look at what Tiger Woods meant to professional golf in general and the PGA Tour in particular.

Like Arnold Palmer before him, Woods' long lasting effect on purses and style of play will be felt on tour for a generation or more. When Woods joined The Tour in September of 1996 (and, by the way, entered seven tournaments, won twice, and qualified for the Tour Championship), purses on the PGA Tour totaled just over $69 million. Ten years later, after Woods' incredible run, they topped $257 million, an increase of a whopping 272%. Not even college tuition increased that much during the same time frame.

Okay, you say, sports salaries and purses have been increasing like that forever. That's just not true. In the decade since, golfers have seen a modest increase of 27% in the amount of money they play for, bringing the increase during Tiger's career to a whopping rise of 373%, which means that current players can attribute about 75% of their current winnings to Tiger Woods. The increase from 2006 to 2016 is just a little more than the entire amount they competed for when Tiger turned professional. So when Phil Mickelson, the second most successful contemporary of Tiger's, sporting 43 wins, 5 majors, and induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, expresses gratitude to Woods, it's apparent why.

As recently as the Valspar Championship last month, we saw the impact that Tiger Woods has on ratings almost five years removed from his last Tour victory. Sunday's numbers were roughly triple last year's, meaning Tiger by himself is potentially twice the draw — by himself — as the rest of the players combined. Those are staggering numbers that are unprecedented in sports history.

Masters Tradition

One of the appeals of The Masters Tournament is the amount of tradition the tournament carries. Whether it's the champions' dinner on Tuesday night, the inclusion of all past champions under the age of 65 in the field, the Wednesday par 3 tournament, the lodging of the amateurs in the Crow's Nest above the clubhouse, or the green jacket ceremony, we revel in them year after year.

This year, former United States Amateur champion and long-time August National competition chairman Fred Ridley took over from Billy Payne as the Chairman of Augusta National Golf club and the Masters Tournament. His first big announcement was that the club would host a women's amateur event the week before the Masters. The founder of Augusta National, Bobby Jones, was a lifelong amateur and the new tournament will clearly continue the club's commitment to amateur golf. As the only men's major that is played at the same course every year, the familiarity with the course and the views give us a welcome renewal of the golf season.

The Tournament

The classic saying is that The Masters Tournament doesn't start until the back nine on Sunday. Unlike other majors, the risk and reward features of the par 5 13th and 15th holes create an atmosphere that lends itself to big comebacks and monumental collapses down the stretch. We remember Curtis Strange's balls in the water at both holes that led to Bernhard Langer's win in 1985, Raymond Floyd's unfortunate bogey at 17 that opened the door for Nick Faldo in 1990, Jordan Spieth's two shots that ended up wet at the par 3 12th that kept him from his second green jacket, missed putts by Ed Sneed and Scott Hoch at the 18th that resulted in playoff losses, and the list goes on and on.

This year's edition of the Masters is one of the most anticipated in recent memory. The return to form of Tiger Woods, recent wins by former champion left-handers Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy's quest for the career grand slam, Dustin Johnson's length, Ricky Fowler's gallery, Jordan Spieth's putting woes, Justin Rose's consistency, Jason Day's focus, and Jon Rahm's volatility all set the stage for an electric weekend. But there are some other players whose current season results would indicate that they could be in the mix: Alex Noren finished third in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play; Brian Harman's only missed one cut in 10 events with seven top-10s, and Matt Kuchar hasn't missed any cuts in his nine events.

Will there be a surprise player in the mix? It's hard to say, since only one first-time entrant has won since 1936, Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. With all of the experience in the field, and a lot of it playing at a high level, my money is on a repeat champion or one of the young guns finally breaking through.

Regarding Tiger, I wrote this in 2016 after he played in the Hero Challenge, before his most recent setbacks. "Can Tiger win again on tour? Absolutely. Will he win another major? From what I saw this week, and if he stays healthy, I don't see any reason why he can't contend, and if he can contend, he can win. He might have finished 15th out of 18 golfers this past weekend, but when you look beyond the scores, there was a lot to like and look forward to." It was true then, and it's true today. I wouldn't count him out.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site