AUGUSTA, Ga. — So this is what freedom looks like.
Golfers not sweating the possibility of You Know Who making a charge. Golf fans walking around Augusta National less concerned they’re missing something momentous on the other side of the course. Everybody looking a little lost.
No red shirt on Sunday, no Lindsey Vonn in the gallery, no rips from the jilted caddie, no breathless interviews with the swing coach about a faulty shoulder turn.
No live shot after live shot of a certain golfer when he’s 10 strokes off the lead. No waiting for him to say something naughty after a bad shot. No watching him shoot 73 and then listening to him say he was thisclose to shooting 65.
No mentions of a messy divorce, dalliances with porn stars or a stay in a clinic for sexual addiction.
There’s something liberating about a Masters without Tiger Woods.
For those of you suffering from Tiger-induced chronic fatigue syndrome, this is the week you get to wake up with a skip in your step. Woods is out because of recent back surgery. It’s the first time in 20 years he will not be playing in the Masters.
Different is good.
Maybe not if you run CBS or ESPN. Or if you’re a ticket broker who sees profits plummeting without the star attraction in attendance. Or if you’re a casual fan who wouldn’t know defending champion Adam Scott from Adam.
Golf is always better with Woods around. But for once, for this one major, it just might be OK to be Tiger-less.
Oh, the players are all saying the right things. That they wish he were here. That it’s not the same without him. They could putt with their Pinocchio noses.
“It’s a weird feeling not having him here, isn’t it?’’ Phil Mickelson said. “He’s been such a mainstay in professional golf and in the majors. I hope he’s back for the other majors. And as much as I want to win and I know how great he is and tough to beat, it makes it special when he’s in the field and you’re able to win.’’
CBS’ docile Jim Nantz, whose trademark greeting of, “Hello, friends,’’ sounds like St. Francis of Assisi talking to animals, got a bit animated last week while responding to reporters’ questions about Woods’ absence.
“I don’t think the golf fan cares about the ratings,” he said. “I’ve never had anybody say, ‘Tell me about the ratings when Jack Nicklaus won in 1986.’ I never had anyone say, ‘[Phil Mickelson’s] victory was great in 2004, but too bad about the rating.’
“Yeah, we’re going to miss Tiger, but this tournament never has been about one player. It’s going to be thrilling, and I can’t wait to see what the next script is to be written.”
The script should come with an index of characters. A record 24 players will be making their Masters debut Thursday. That includes 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, last year’s PGA rookie of the year, and 23-year-old Patrick Reed, who has boldly proclaimed himself one of the top five golfers in the world. Maybe he’ll turn out to be right.
“Twenty-four first-timers,’’ Reed said. “Definitely shows that whoever is playing their best golf is going to win. Doesn’t matter if you’ve played here once or if you’ve played here 50 times. When it comes down to it … whoever is playing the best is going to walk away with the trophy.’’
It might seem counterintuitive, but Tiger’s presence takes the pressure off other golfers, unless they’re in his group. I’ve always wanted to see an aerial view of a course while he’s playing. It must look like a movable rock concert, with a mosh pit wherever Woods is and what look like a few ants wherever he’s not.
He absorbs all nearby light. It’s not his fault, or at least not always his fault. He has been so good for so long that we turn to him reflexively. Now we turn and he’s not there. Now what?
There’s the question of whether he’ll break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories (he’s four behind). There’s the even bigger question of whether he’ll ever win a major again. But we don’t have to follow that tired story line this week. We’re free. By Saturday, we might not like our freedom. But right now, it’s not so bad.
A guy could get used to this. For a week.