No Tiger? No problem at the Masters


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In honor of Tiger Woods' absence due to microdiscectomy surgery, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne is wearing a green back brace. The grounds crew has strung red crepe down Magnolia Lane. The broadcast partners have requested a moment of silence.

But, people -- less of Woods means more of everybody and everything else.

Sure, I wish he were here. No player is more compelling, more polarizing and more watchable than Woods. You root for him. You root against him. But you root, which is more than you can say about almost any other guy in the 97-player Masters field.

Woods, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, will be missed, but that doesn't mean the tuh-nament needs drama dialysis. The Masters went 59 years without Tiger; it can survive 2014 without him, too.

You remain unconvinced? How about 20 reasons (one for each Masters that Woods has played -- and one for the DNP this week) this major still deserves your undivided attention.

1. The Golden Bear, The King and The Black Knight. On the same tee box. At the same Thursday 7:40 a.m. ET tee time. If you can't get geeked watching Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player knocking it down No. 1, then you had your golf heart removed at birth.

2. Tiger can't make a run at his 15th major, but Steve Williams can. The most successful caddie in golf history has "won" 14 majors (13 with Woods, 1 with Adam Scott).

3. Jordan Spieth ... Jimmy Walker ... Patrick Reed ... Harris English ...  Victor Dubuisson ...

A record-breaking 24 players are making their Masters debut. That's about 25 percent of the entire field, which means Fuzzy Zoeller and 1979 are in danger of losing their bar-bet status (name the previous first-time player to win the Masters).

4. Only one player in the field has a chance to go back-to-back on green jackets -- and it isn't Eldrick. It is Scott, who can join Tiger, Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only guys to win consecutive Masters.

5. Where else can you watch father and son playing in the same Masters? Craig Stadler won the 1982 Masters, and his son Kevin is making his first appearance. The Stadlers have had their issues, but here's guessing they'll be tracking each other's scores.

6. Long shots: Amateurs Matthew Fitzpatrick, Oliver Goss, Chang-woo Lee, Michael McCoy, Jordan Niebrugge and Garrick Porteous.

7. Short shots: None.

And isn't that great? There isn't one player -- not Scott, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson -- in single digits when it comes to betting odds this week. Rors and Scott are the lowest, at 10-to-1. Translation: wide open.

8. Miguel Angel Jimenez and his hot yoga routine on the practice range.

9. Paulina Gretzky and what's-his-name.

10. No Tiger, but the rest of the gang is still here: pimento cheese sandwiches, azaleas, pine trees, dogwoods and the pollen.

11. Non-Woods moments, such as ...

2013: Scott's playoff birdie in the gloamin'.

12. 2012: Bubba's playoff wedge shot from the gods.

13. 2011: 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy shoots 80 in the final round and Charl Schwartzel birdies the last four holes to win by two over Scott and Day.

14. 2010: Phil's 6-iron between two pine trees on No. 13 during Sunday's round. He becomes only the eighth player to win three Masters.

15. 2009: Kenny Perry comes this close to becoming the oldest major winner (four months shy of his 49th birthday), losing to Angel Cabrera in a playoff.

16. 2004: Lefty sinks an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win his first Masters (and first major).

17. 1998: A 58-year-old Nicklaus finishes T-6 with a bad hip ... two spots higher than Woods, who was only a year removed from setting a Masters scoring record in his win.

18. The guy who said here two years ago that "I'm not good enough" to win a major is now considered one of the semi-favorites this week to win a major. Say hello to Sergio Garcia, arguably the best player never to have won one of the Big Four.

19. You can have rules controversies with or without Woods.

20. And ... Masters office pools.

You can't do any worse than you did in your NCAA bracket.