Woods – naturally – tops Masters’ most burning questions

Tiger Woods holds the trophy after being presented the green jacket for winning the Masters in 2019 at Augusta National Golf Club. Woods  is undecided about playing in this year's event. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Tiger Woods holds the trophy after being presented the green jacket for winning the Masters in 2019 at Augusta National Golf Club. Woods is undecided about playing in this year's event. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

AUGUSTA — Given all the COVID concessions, this will be the first full-throated Masters since 2019, when Augusta National went all warehouse rave in its appreciation of Tiger Woods.

Turns out, nothing much has changed. Medical science is still finding new and ingenious methods of putting Woods back together. He still represents some of its finest work, edged out only recently by a rather helpful vaccine.

ExploreTiger Woods remains undecided about playing at the Masters

And Woods remains very much the center of curiosity when by all rights he should be less relevant on these grounds right now than crabgrass.

Welcome to Masters week, and five questions that burn with varying brightness at the outset:

Can he or can’t he?

It has been more than 13 months since Woods crashed his car while on a reckless drive in Southern California. This time when he went into the trees, his short game couldn’t save him.

At this writing, Woods hasn’t declared whether this Masters would mark another return to golf that beggars belief. He tweeted out his intention to be on site Sunday to work his game and his body, calling his choice a “game-time decision.” Let the dangling continue.

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On one hand, Augusta National is one long, hilly track, hardly the ideal terrain on which to stress test a reconstructed leg. On the other, as the scene of five of his major titles and the repository of some of his most dramatic moments, it is the ideal stage for a revival.

In ‘19, Woods demonstrated it possible to win the Masters with a fused spine. Now he’s weighing a return to golf after nearly losing a leg in the crash. He’s running out of both repairable body parts and plausible comeback themes.

The thought of him playing again was unthinkable as recently as last month. Now he’s doing some stealthy recon missions at Augusta National and setting the golf world atwitter. To those who think too much attention is paid the man, prepare to find a deep, dark cave to inhabit the next couple days.

Riding on his decision is whether this will be the first Masters without both Woods and Phil Mickelson since 1994. Mickelson, of course, is assuredly out after his image suffered a high ankle sprain.

How long has it been? In 1994, Woods was in high school and Mickelson, just 23, was out with his own bum leg (no, he wasn’t kneecapped by his bookie, but rather hurt it skiing).

To quote Butch Cassidy: Who are those guys?

Your world’s No. 1-ranked golfer is an alliterative long hitter named Scottie Scheffler. The guy’s won three times since February and still might go unnoticed in the 10 items or less line at the Publix on Washington Road.

He’s one of three winners on Tour this year 25 or younger and one of five first-time winners (of Masters qualifying events) this wraparound season. There is some kind of class revolt going on within the PGA Tour that, frankly, has gotten a bit unseemly.

Only one player ranked in the top 10 at the beginning of this year – No. 10 Cam Smith – has won in 2022. You know him as The Players Championship winner sporting the hairstyle more common on “COPS” than on the Golf Channel.

If any tournament can bring back some form and decorum, it’s the Masters.

Whatever happened to Bryson DeChambeau’s plan to revolutionize golf?

An object of fascination throughout his previous five Masters appearances, as both amateur and pro, the most interesting man in golf has gone quiet and ordinary. Bryson DeChambeau missed nearly two months this year with a fractured hamate bone in his hand and a torn labrum in his hip. I’m no kinesiologist, but still feel rather comfortable saying that someone who swings like he wants to liquify his joints is going to eventually succeed.

His own comeback is proceeding slowly. DeChambeau failed to get out of pool play in the World Golf Championships match play and missed the cut in Texas this week.

All his mad science and mad length has earned him one major title but has yet to translate to the Masters. His best career finish remains T-21 as an amateur in 2016. His average finish in four outings as a pro: 36.75. As far as the Masters goes, DeChambeau remains an outsider, like the radical trying to get somebody at the VFW hall to buy him a drink.

When will they move a tee box out to Aiken, S.C.?

Augusta National is a stubborn old fella still trying to get into his wedding suit. They just keep letting out the course more and more, the alterations barely keeping up with an ever-expanding game.

The latest for this tournament is an added 15 yards to No. 11, an already toothy par-4 that traditionally is among the hardest holes on the lot. And another 15 yards to the par-5 15th, among the relatively simpler challenges. Augusta National will play over 7,500 yards now.

Better put another plate on the leg press machine in the fitness trailer, boys.

Will the Rory watch ever end?

Do you know that it has been nearly eight years since Rory McIlroy last won a major championship? And forever since he has won a Masters?

The wait for McIlroy to complete his career Grand Slam at the Masters has become interminable, like the wait for the next great heavyweight champ. An already likable gent, McIlroy is becoming something of a Masters martyr, not in the Greg Norman mold just yet but probing the fringes.

The betting public hasn’t completely cooled on his chances – McIlroy remains among the favorites, just behind Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. But we all grow impatient.

While remaining skeptical, let’s echo what two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson told Golfweek: “As a sports as a sports fan, I want McIlroy to win one, right? There are just things that you want to happen not only as a sports fan, but now as a friend, as well. I’d love to be there when he wins.”

Wouldn’t we all?