By Gary Van Sickle
I was looking for odds on Tiger Woods at the 2017 Masters and couldn’t find any.
Odds on Woods to win the 2017 Masters? Oh, I found those, no problem. One Las Vegas sports book has him at 100-1 to win, a big slip from 20-1 after he played the Hero World Challenge in December without hurting himself. There were no odds to be found (at least by me) on Woods simply to play this Masters. After his latest physical setback, that is a more pressing question and, therefore, a more interesting wager.
All that my web search came up with was something from early 2010 when British bookmaker William Hill offered 1-4 odds on Woods playing in Augusta, which was to be his first appearance since the fire-hydrant incident the previous November and the subsequent global media frenzy that followed.
I hope I’m wrong, but I am not overly optimistic about seeing Woods on Magnolia Lane. Here is what we know: Woods, who had returned from a 16-month layoff to compete in the Hero World Challenge in December, played his first two rounds of the 2017 season at Torrey Pines and missed the cut. He flew to the Middle East, appeared to be hurting late in the first round in Dubai (although he claimed that he wasn’t in pain), shot 77 and withdrew before the second round, citing back spasms. He announced last week that those “spasms” will sideline him for this week’s Genesis Open and next week’s Honda Classic, too.
The mainstream golf media immediately started triangulating where Woods might play in order to get his game sharp for Augusta National in April. There is the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook, where he never has played; the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he has won eight times; and the Shell Houston Open, scheduled the week before the Masters, a date on which Woods never has competed. He even could play the Puerto Rico Open, the second-tier tournament held opposite the Dell Technologies World Match Play Championship since his world ranking — 674 before today’s update — means he won’t be among the top 64 players who earn berths.
Forget about getting sharp for Augusta. Those back spasms, if that’s all they really are, qualify as a red flag for a 41-year-old man with four major knee surgeries and three back procedures. Although Woods was able to produce a handful of competitive shots in his two recent appearances, his swing wasn’t recognizable and looked like the action of a man who had to be careful because of physical limitations. That’s not the Tiger Woods we knew.
The question has to be asked whether his spasms actually are part of a more serious injury or worse, a re-injury of his thrice-repaired back. You might take another athlete at his word, but Woods has a long history of providing inaccurate (or incomplete) information about his health. Part of that may be because he is competitive and has an athlete’s mindset that injuries aren’t an excuse. Part of it also may be that he has had so little privacy since he was a child that he resents every little intrusion that comes with his worldwide fame.
Any professional golfer is always one swing away from a career-ending injury. Maybe you noticed former Masters champion Trevor Immelman on Golf Channel’s “Golf Central” set during the recent AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Injuries curtailed his career. After making just three cuts in 18 worldwide tournaments last year, Immelman suddenly is doing TV commentary. He is 37.
Backs are the worst, though, and if Woods has re-injured his back in any significant way, that could be career-ending.
Maybe he is suffering only from back spasms. That would be good news. I hope his odds of recovering and playing in this Masters are at better than 50-50. Until I get more information, though, I’m not taking that bet.