AUGUSTA — Jack Nicklaus said Tuesday he had no doubts that he would see Tiger Woods at Augusta National Golf Club this year.
Neither did most people who follow the sport.
This is a special year for golf, a year in which the majors are aligned perfectly to create a memorable season. Three of this year’s majors will take place in some of the sport’s most famous theaters.
The first begins Thursday with the Masters. Then the U.S. Open and the British Open will be contested at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews in June and July, respectively.
That collection of majors coupled with those venues was too much for Woods to pass up, regardless of the issues he has faced following the fallout of his sex scandal that became public in November.
Many assumed Woods would return to golf at the Tavistock Cup or at Bay Hill — where he won in 2008 and 2009 — to give himself a little warm-up in a competitive environment. His return this season wasn’t a matter of if. The question was when and more specifically if that when would come before the Masters.
When Woods returned to the public eye by reading a statement in front of friends and family in February, he said he hadn’t ruled out a return to golf this year. But it’s hard to imagine he had any thoughts of sitting out this year.
If any year sets up for a run at a Grand Slam, then this is the year for Woods. His performance at the Masters, where he has won four times, speaks for itself. But he is nearly unbeatable at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.
Woods scorched the field to win the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He was the only player under par, winning the tournament by 15 strokes and tying the tournament scoring record. That winning margin is the largest in any major championship. Woods also became the first player to score in double digits under par at the U.S. Open.
Woods is 2-0 at St. Andrews in British Opens, winning the tournament in 2000 and 2005. He shot 19 under to win the 2000 championship by eight shots. That’s the lowest score for any major champion ever. He won by five shots in 2005.
The biggest challenges for Woods to pull off a Grand Slam will being winning this weekend following a five-month layoff. He’ll have to fight rustiness, a tough course and any mental stress resulting from his family problems.
For Woods, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews could be a breeze.
If it comes down to the final major, Woods will be playing at a course that he didn’t fare so well on the last time he played it. The final major will be held at Whistling Straits. Woods finished tied for 24th there at the 2004 PGA Championship. That was also arguably Woods’ worst year on tour. He’ll likely be a lot more focused this time around, particularly if he has played well throughout the spring and summer.
Golf can be the distraction Woods needs right now, and he should be awfully focused. He always has been a player who sets sights on making history, and history is presenting itself in a major way this season.
If he can overcome the long layoff, then Woods can climb pretty close to tying Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. Woods is currently at 14.
With that opportunity ahead of him, Woods wasn’t going to sit out this season for second.
Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org