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Vince Johnson: The talk is Tiger Woods

Posted: April 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 5, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Despite the other stories at The Masters, Tiger Woods remains the dominant focus of those in attendance.

 

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Heading into today’s 76th Masters Tournament, the smorgasbord of storylines leaves me drooling the sweet tea that I’ve been downing like an IV drip since I arrived at Augusta National on Tuesday. Frankly, it’s a sportswriter’s dream — sweet tea and storylines, that is.

Many will choose to write about women’s membership, or lack thereof, at Augusta National. I’m scampering from that issue faster than anyone. Well, anyone except for club Chairman Billy Payne, who steadily dodged seven different versions of the same question on the topic Wednesday at his annual press conference.

Others will tackle Rory McIlroy as he attempts to expunge his Sunday demons of 2011, Luke Donald as he tries to win his first major as the world’s top-ranked player, or any one of the 15 Masters first-timers who will vie for the tourney title and to become the first rookie to slip on the green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

I even considered the topic of the mysterious absence of the legendary pimento cheese sandwiches in the press cafeteria.

It’s all for naught, however.

When Tiger Woods is playing, and especially when he’s playing in Augusta, Tiger Woods is the story.

Crowds of newly pressed spring polo-wearing patrons follow his path like the ocean’s waves. With his every movement, the sounds of small firecrackers explode around him as cameras grasp for their featured shot. Interviews with his playing partners, which included Mark O’Meara and Sean O’Hair Wednesday, consist of a quick complementary question about their game, followed by approximately 78 questions about the 14-time major champion.

He’s been put under an attention-grabbling spotlight since birth, when his parents chose to call him “Tiger” Woods instead of, say, any other name in the history of golf.

His personal actions have led to almost unparalleled level of public scrutiny, and combined with his numerous injuries, he’s fallen to professional lows few could have ever expected for the man once considered a shoo-in to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. Yet here he is, more than two years later and 36 years of age, ready to climb back to the top of golf’s major mountain.

“As far as controlling my game, I feel like I’m hitting the ball just as consistently day-in and day-out as I did (in 2000),” Woods said Tuesday, speaking of a time in which he won four consecutive majors.

Having reigned victorious two weeks ago at Bay Hill, his game appears ready. So to, it seems, are the people who follow in his perpetually enormous galleries. Looking far removed from the galleries of 2010 that watched on with a circus-like anticipation, the galleries of today look ready, I dare say, to move on.

Four-year-old girls happily yell “Tiger! Tiger!” as he walks by smiling. Spectators clamor for the perfect angle to see his every shot, and the “witty” comments along the ropes, which were for a while the norm when his personal indiscretions combined with golf jargon, have become fainter.

Without a Masters victory since 2005, Tiger is in the midst of the longest green jacket dry spell of his career. However, during those six tournament losses, he hasn’t finished worse than tied for sixth.

If he wins, he’ll tie another Nicklaus mark, that of 73 PGA tour victories. Woods says he motivated elsewhere.

“Seventy-three would be a by-product, but I’m here for the green jacket.”

Go get it, Tiger.

Vince Johnson is in his fourth year covering The Masters for Morris Multimedia. He is The Signal’s chief multimedia officer and will be writing a daily column from Augusta National Golf Club. You can follow his week on Twitter @vincejohnson.

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