AUGUSTA, Ga. — We're just a few hours away now from the 2022 Masters Tournament and the biggest storyline is obviously Tiger Woods.
Just 14 months after what was a catastrophic leg injury suffered in a car accident in Los Angeles, Tiger Woods plans to tee it up at Augusta National on Thursday morning.
Longtime golf writer and author of the upcoming book "Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry", Bob Harig joined the Locked On Today podcast on Wednesday for a special episode, to get his insight ahead of golf's most iconic tournament.
SUBSCRIBE: The Locked On Today podcast hosted by Peter Bukowski gets you caught up every morning on the biggest stories in sports without taking up your free time.
Harig said the fact that Tiger Woods is set to play on Thursday still defies all logic and belief.
"It’s still hard to wrap your head around the idea that Tiger is playing in the Masters and Phil Mickelson is not," Harig said. "As recently as six weeks ago, Tiger was really downplaying the idea of his comeback, talking like it was going to be awhile…But now we’re talking about a golf course that’s one of the toughest walks in golf. We’re not talking about any flat golf course that might be hard enough to deal with.”
After the scandal a little over a decade ago that rocked Tiger Woods as a figure, he made his return to tournament golf at Augusta. Why does Tiger feel so safe and comfortable here?
“It was puzzling then, it’s puzzling now. It’s not the place you come back to without any sort of seasoning. You want to ease your way into it, chip off some of the rust and get used to being inside the ropes again…I think it’s clear that he loves the place, he wants to be here. This is the 25th anniversary of his first Masters win in 1997. It’s because it’s the Masters that he made the effort. He’s won here five times, he’s contended six or seven other times. Going forward, it’s going to be one of the places he truly has a chance to win still.”
What are reasonable expectations for Tiger?
“I think a reasonable expectation is to make the cut," Harig said. "It’s only 91 players, the field is smaller than most tournaments. There’s 15-20 players who are probably not competitive at this level. That knocks the field down to 70-75 guys and the top 50 and ties make it. He doesn’t have to beat that many guys to make the cut…Can he contend? We’re getting into territory that defies belief there, but of course I didn’t think he would be here. What do I know?”
No Phil Mickelson at Augusta
One name that is not in Augusta this week and very notably, is Phil Mickelson. Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship, becoming the oldest major champion in golf history.
Over the past year, there’s been heavy rumblings about a potential rival golf league and there’s been one that Greg Norman is the commissioner of, back by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, working to throw huge sums at players to sign on and essentially guaranteed money in tournaments.
This led players including Phil Mickelson wondering why there’s not more guaranteed money for TOUR players. And he spoke out about it. But, in the process, Mickelson made controversial statements about the Saudi-backed aspect about it and disparaging remarks about the PGA Tour. Now, Mickelson hasn’t played in two months and hasn’t spoken publicly since February.
Locked On Today host Peter Bukowski asked Harig, is there 3% or 5% of Tiger Woods that is relishing the fact that Phil Mickelson isn’t here?
“Probably. Maybe more, maybe 10%. I don’t think Tiger wishes any ill-will on Phil Mickelson, I think they’re past that point," Harig said. "I think Tiger was genuinely happy for him when he won the PGA Championship last summer. But the issues that are hurting Phil right now, Tiger’s clearly on the other side of. If you could give him truth serum, I would say Tiger is very upset with what Phil was doing and he doesn’t agree with it and he might even be defiant about it. Tiger clearly took the side of the PGA Tour in that flap and Phil was looking out for other possibilities, very lucrative ones, and in the process it got him in a lot of trouble.”
What does it take to have success at the Masters?
“The biggest stat to look at in this tournament is greens in regulation," Harig said. "It usually doesn’t relate in a regular tournament. A guy might hit 10 greens a day or 9 but of those he makes a bunch of birdies. It doesn’t work quite as well here. If you’re missing a lot of greens, you’re going to make some bogeys. So hit a lot of greens, get some birdies, make out with par when you can. If you can hit the par 5’s in two and get some easy two-putt birdies, now you’re saying something. Tiger mastered that pretty well in 2019.”
Who has the best shot this week?
The field this week is obviously one of the best in the world and it features a number of top players who have contended but not yet won this year. That includes Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Brooks Koepka and others.
“I think a lot of them have a shot and it’s pretty wide open. We seemingly have a lot of parity right now," Harig said. "Jon Rahm was No. 1 two weeks ago and he hasn’t won since the U.S. Open. Scottie Scheffler just won three tournaments in seven weeks to move to No. 1…Collin Morikawa won a major last year, hasn’t won this year. Patrick Cantlay was the FedEx Cup champion and hasn’t won yet this year. I happen to like Justin Thomas, who also hasn’t won yet this year. He’s a great ball-striker, hits a lot of greens. The weather isn’t going to be great, more rain and then Thursday and Friday it cools off a bit, it’s going to be cold on Saturday. I think he’s a guy that can handle that.”
What about Rory?
It's been a storyline for years how Rory McIlroy needs just a Masters win to complete the iconic major grand slam, but he hasn't been able to do it. Why is that and what needs to happen for him this week?
“Rory McIlroy is a guy we haven’t even mentioned yet, who should be in contention,' Harig said. "But he hasn’t hit enough greens here over the years. He’s almost been too aggressive. He needs to dial that back, take his pars and get his birdies where he can get them. Those pins tempt him and when you’re missing the greens, you’re really agonizing to make a par.”