While it may be impossible to prove on paper, most local tournament pundits agree: had Tiger Wood’s Masters withdrawal announcement come a few weeks earlier, there is a good chance real money could have been sucked right out of our local economy.
There is a shadow economy that exists off the books from what the Chamber of Commerce or the mayor’s office are able to document, and it is tied to the demand for tournament tickets, tournament housing and all the accouterments that go along with Augusta’s finest spring tradition. In years when interest in Tiger Woods is at a peak, cash registers are known to hum. This is not to say we have really had a lackluster week when it comes to the tournament’s economic impact, but some years are better than others.
No one is eager to go on the record when it comes to black market ticket values or, for that matter, the tax free rental windfalls that local homeowners are able to pocket thanks to loopholes in the income tax code, but folks in the know are delighted when the world’s most famous athlete comes to Augusta in fine form and ready to compete.
It is ironic to consider that as much personal scandal and distraction as Woods has lived with since November of 2009, not to mention physical challenges and injuries, in all that time there has not been a Masters tournament that he has not been the odds on favorite to win. In fact, the same could be said for any tournament in which he was scheduled to play, almost without exception, since his first win in Augusta in 1997.
Lately, his detractors have said he is done. He is “not competitive,” “not intimidating” and “a has been.” If you follow the ramblings of casual fans, you have heard all of that and other insults thrown in for good measure, usually personal in nature, sometimes racist.
But Woods’ record last season tells quite a different tale. He won five PGA tournaments; the most any other single player won was two. That is five victories out of 16 tournaments entered, which is a winning percentage better than the 27 percent mark he has posted over his career. He finished ranked as the No. 1 player statistically and, yes, he won Player of the Year to boot.
He may not have won a major, and he may show only sporadic hints of the domination that made him the first billionaire the sports world ever created, but he still managed to lap the field in total wins and remain the universally acknowledged best golfer in the world.
You may not like him; certainly many of our wives and mothers do not. But if you are a fan of the game of golf, to call him anything other than the most important individual playing the sport today would be ignorant and willfully deceitful.
Our yearly event has been made better and more dramatic in the last 20 years because of his participation, and while he has collected dozens of trophies and titles along the way, none have looked better on him than the Green Jackets. None have more helped heal the damage that years of exclusion, not just from the Augusta National but from courses and clubs all over the world, that minority players faced all over the world in the game of golf.
Tiger’s withdrawal came late enough that 2014 will not be known as a “down” year in economic terms when it comes to Masters Week, but if for some reason it turns into an extended absence, you better believe the event will be less than what it could have been, in any number of ways.
The Masters needs its champions and, in our generation, Tiger is the greatest of them all. In terms of all time greats, don’t take my word for it, consider the wisdom of Jack Nicklaus, who had this to say last September: “If you look at it realistically, Tiger’s probably got another 10 years of top golf. That’s 40 majors. Can he win five of them? I think he probably will.”
Who are we to argue with Jack?