Tiger Woods out of 2014 Masters: Who Will Fill the Star-Power Vacuum at Augusta?
It had to happen, but we just didn’t think it would be so soon.
So, that leaves the door wide open, but for whom? Who, if anyone, can fill the enormous void left by the most dominant player ever to set foot on Augusta’s glistening greens?
It has been six years since his last major title, and it will be longer as he misses the Masters for the first time in his career. His quest to pass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles is once again put on hold.
It is the Masters that we most associate with Tiger, who has won there four times. If given a choice, we might have said that of all the venues where he might finally end his title drought, it would be there.
Today’s pros have Tiger to thank for so much: For the huge crowds and even more huge prize money; for the major sponsors, the massive media coverage and international largesse of their sport; for the example he set as the most intimidating presence on the golfing scene since Nicklaus.
There is no next Tiger waiting in the wings, but there are many who must be chomping at the bit now that he will not be playing at Augusta. This is a day they have prepared for. Now let’s see who can make a push to prominence.
Even without golf’s crown jewel, the field may be as strong as ever, especially with the rise of a slate of new winners on the tour.
Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson have the swagger. Adam Scott has the experience and Rory McIlroy the sheer talent. Jordan Spieth appears to have the competitive spirit, while there are a slew of other young players whom we are just getting to know but who can now capitalize on Tiger’s absence.
Oh, yes, there is a guy named Phil who, if he can get over his own injury, just might be able to make a run at another green jacket.
Who will capture the spotlight at Augusta in what appears to be the dawn of a new era in golf? Let’s take a look at those with the best chance.
Patrick Reed has a real chance to put his money where his mouth is.
After winning the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, his third win in 14 events, the 23-year-old quickly proclaimed he was a "top-five player," even though he was ranked 20th at the time.
Still, Reed has the game and the guile to back up his promise. He combines length off the tee, averaging just over 295 yards, with excellence on the green and is ranked 24th in strokes gained, placing him eighth in scoring on the tour.
As someone who unabashedly models himself after Tiger down to the red shirt on Sundays, Reed could easily steal the spotlight at Augusta in the most Tiger-esque of fashion.
Harris English has quietly and assuredly made a case for himself as one of the new top Americans on tour.
He has won twice in the last two years while becoming a mainstay atop the leaderboard with six top-10 finishes in 13 events this season alone.
He now sits in fourth place in FedEx Cup points, spurred by a well-rounded game that includes the No. 2 position in greens hit in regulation, the 20th spot in driving distance and the fourth spot in scoring.
It would be fitting for the unassuming 24-year-old Georgian to assume the most prominent position on Sunday at Augusta, a stone’s throw from where he grew up.
Ian Poulter has never been shy about his desire to usurp Tiger. In fact, he may be better known for that than just about anything he has done on the course.
Back in 2008, in fact, he called out the world’s best golfer when he told Golf World magazine: "Don't get me wrong, I really respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven't played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger."
Poulter has had a passable pro career highlighted by his stellar Ryder Cup performances.
Considering his vocal desire to play head-to-head with Tiger, it would ironic if the 19th-ranked Poulter actually won at Augusta when his nemesis wasn’t there.
It would also amount to Poulter’s first major title.
Keegan Bradley is just the kind of player to make a run at the Masters now that Tiger is not there.
The winner of the 2011 PGA Championship and former Rookie of the Year continues to play consistently throughout his short career. Most recently, he finished second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and has scored in the top 25 eight times in 10 events this season.
With his previous major-title experience, Bradley could be one to watch at Augusta.
Like Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia has faced off publicly with Tiger. On and off the course, Tiger has always gotten the best of him. So with Tiger out of the way, the path is wide open for Sergio to finally win his first major title.
And why not? Despite not having won in recent years, Garcia is at the top of his game with five top-25 finishes in five events, including three in the top 10.
And he likes Augusta, where he finished tied for eighth last year and tied for 12th the year before.
No excuses, Luke. This is a major title you could and should win.
Augusta has not always been kind to Luke Donald, as he has missed the cut there a couple of times.
But this time could be different for Donald, who has slipped all the way down to 27th in the world rankings.
He has bounced around a bit this year with finishes as low as 33rd at the WGC Accenture Match Play and as high as a tie for fourth at the recent Valspar Championship.
Donald may be at the top of that list of best current players not to have won a major. With Tiger out of the way, he could at last make a play to win at Augusta.
Last year’s U.S. Open winner is primed to steal the spotlight at Augusta.
By jumping that big major-title hurdle, Rose has elevated his game and his status and is now ranked sixth in the world.
Despite missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Championship, he has finished in the top 10 in two events this season.
After tasting major glory, Rose seems to be an odds-on favorite to score again at the Masters.
Few golfers have played as well in the majors as the young Australian who tied for second at the Masters in 2011. Jason Day also tied for second at last year’s U.S. Open.
Most recently, he won the World Golf Championships–Accenture Match Play Championship and has jumped to fourth in the world standings.
While he is currently nursing an injured thumb, Day possesses the competitive drive that will serve him well when he tees it up at Augusta.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year is nothing if not gutsy.
Last week, Jordan Spieth shot a mediocre round of 75 on the first day of the Valero Texas Open, only to bounce back with consecutive low rounds and finish in 10th place.
It is this kind of focus that has elevated the 20-year-old into the upper echelon of golf, where he is now ranked 13th in the world.
Much like Tiger, Spieth will just not be denied and has finished in the top 25 in nine of 10 events.
It is just a matter of time until he wins for the second time on tour, and the Masters seems to be as good of a spot as any.
Zach Johnson has slowly and patiently risen into the top ranks of the tour and is primed to win again at Augusta, where he donned the green jacket in 2007.
It has been a long climb back to prominence, but Johnson—who won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions earlier this season—is now ranked ninth in the world. He also owns four top-10 finishes.
Ranked fifth in driving accuracy, he is hitting the ball straight and, perhaps more importantly, he is hitting the ball on the green with regularity, which his No. 7 position in scoring can certainly be attributed to.
The former Masters champ has a real shot at winning at Augusta again.
Dustin Johnson has had his share of issues at majors where he has been in contention and not been able to finish.
But the long-baller is playing the best golf of his career.
Statistically, few players are playing better than Johnson, who ranks second in driving distance, first in greens in regulation, 11th in strokes gained (putting) and first in scoring average.
Those stats have led to a win at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and two second-place finishes.
If anyone has a chance of staring down Augusta, it is Johnson.
The time has come for Bubba Watson to take over.
The 2012 Masters winner is playing with the kind of confidence that could easily bring him another green jacket.
Few players have the creativity and guts to pull off the kind of moves the self-taught Watson is capable of.
And few have the nerve to do it in the majors as he has proved before.
Including his win at the Northern Trust Open, he has five top-10 finishes this year. He is also ranked No. 1 in driving distance, which, if he can keep it in play, will bode well for him at Augusta.
With Tiger out of the picture, Bubba is primed to become the top U.S. player, and with a win at the Masters, no one will disagree.
Calm, cool and collected with movie-star looks, it is the No. 2-ranked Adam Scott who may best embody the position of the world’s best golfer left vacant by Tiger.
He will most likely be ranked No. 1 after Augusta, but could make a loud statement should he actually win the event for the second time in two years.
At 33, Scott has become the player to beat with top-10 finishes in three of his last five events.
He knows Augusta and knows what it takes to win. All eyes will be on him.
The three-time winner at the Masters would assuredly be one of the favorites going into the event were it not for his oblique injury.
That will probably not keep him away, though, and whenever Phil Mickelson has a chance to tee it up, he is a threat to win.
That is somewhat odd to say since at 43, he will be among the oldest players in a field that runs rampant with sub-25-year-olds.
But until someone tells us otherwise, it is Phil who rides side by side with Tiger as the most competitive and compelling golfer in the world.
No one has been more aligned with the Tiger mystique than Rory McIlroy.
Rory was anointed the next Tiger soon after he became a pro and then sealed his fate with two quick major titles—the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
He has had a roller-coaster ride in his short career, but has seemingly come back to the fore with a win at the Australian Open in 2013 and a second-place finish at the Honda Classic this year.
He may have faltered at the Honda, where he held a 54-hole lead, but no one could deny that Rory played extremely well throughout the tournament.
Rory is hitting it far and straight and has resurrected his game to the point where he may end up taking the reins as Tiger’s rightful replacement.
Advanced stats courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise noted.