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Keep an eye on Tiger in this weekend’s Masters

By Alex Wise / Staff Writer

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The slow torture begins in February — 10-second clips of the lushest green grass you’ll ever see, accompanied by the soothing sounds of chirping birds and soft running water as a yellow flag waves in the wind.

Now, the anticipation is over. The Masters is here.

Golf’s most visually appealing tournament got underway on Thursday at 7:45 a.m. at Augusta National Golf Club, and all the stars wereon display. Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson began their first two rounds together, as did Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. But all attention was focused on the early afternoon, around 1:45, when Tiger Woods teed off.

The 39-year-old Woods, whose last major championship victory came in 2008, hasn’t played competitively on the PGA tour since Feb. 5, when he pulled himself out of the Farmers Insurance Open in La Jolla, Ca. Woods says he’s healthy now, but we’ve heard that before. He’s played only sporadically over the past three years.

As a result of his comings and goings from lower back issues, we’ve reached a point in Woods’ career that makes it nearly impossible to predict his performance. Once far and away the most feared golfer on tour, now we don’t know whether to fear him or to fear his back snapping in half on a par 5 tee shot.

The former is preferable, as nothing would be better for golf than for Woods to win his fifth green jacket. Golf is so much more intriguing when he’s part of the mix.

The star power that Woods possesses is arguably unmatched by any athlete since Michael Jordan. Golf, while relaxing and fun to play, isn’t the most watchable sport for us impatient Americans. Tiger made it watchable while remaining a constant figure in the world of sport — his endorsement deals with Nike, Titleist, Gatorade, Buick, Gillette and a handful of others kept him a visible figure year round.

He was a living immortal. SportsCenter provided updates on Tiger when there were no updates to provide, much like they do now with LeBron James and did formerly with Tim Tebow.

But then came the sex scandal, followed by injuries and a lack of focus. In Woods’ absence, golf lacked a charismatic star. Guys like Mickelson and McIlroy, great as they are, just don’t have that attitude, that — excuse the cliché — “it factor.”

Woods has “it.” His passion for golf is unmatched by anybody else’s passion for anything.

I use videos of his fist pump to get excited for intramural basketball games. When he burst on the professional golf scene in 1996, the sport’s popularity spiked, and remained worth watching in the young generation’s eyes. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I never would have taken up golf if it wasn’t for Woods, because golf wouldn’t have been popular without him.

And that’s what makes this Masters so potentially exciting. Without Woods, it’s just another golf tournament. With him, however, things are infinitely more exciting, because we recognize him. It doesn’t matter where he stands when round three finishes on Saturday.

If his back holds up, Sunday will be an exciting day of golf.

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Keep an eye on Tiger in this weekend’s Masters