Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tiger Blood

Someone is going to win the Masters today.

It ain't gonna be Tiger Woods, writes Gene Wojciechowski for

But it might be Rory McIlroy, who staked out his advantage in the first round and has built it into the "largest lead Augusta National has seen since that remarkable day 14 years ago," writes John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times.

Anyone who is old enough to remember the 1997 Masters remembers the way Tiger Woods dominated the field. He was the youngest golfer ever to win the Masters, a mere 21, but that was probably the least of his accomplishments on the day he won his first green jacket.

He's won three more since then, and he's won every other major multiple times.

Tiger continues to cast an enormous shadow over this tournament — even though he has only won it once in the last eight years — but that shadow seems to be receding.

Tiger goes into today's final round trailing by seven strokes. He had a seven–under round one day in 1997 en route to his record–setting triumph in the Masters, and he flirted with it the next day so he is — or, at least, has been — capable of that.

But, in order for a 65 to result in at least a tie with the current leader, that leader would have to do something he hasn't done in the first three days of this tournament — break even.

In fact, even if the leader duplicates his worst round of the tournament (yesterday's two–under 70), Tiger would need to shoot a nine–under 63 to match him — and he would have to hope that the other golfers who stand between him and McIlroy don't have record–smashing afternoons of their own.

It just seems to me that there are too many obstacles between Tiger and a fifth green jacket. And even if there were no other golfers between Tiger and McIlroy, the greatest of the obstacles would remain: If Tiger ever shot a 63 (in a major or even a non–major), he hasn't done it recently.

So I would have to conclude that Wojciechowski was right — but we won't know that for sure until later today.

We'll also have to wait until later today to find out if Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski was right a couple of days ago when he observed that first–round leaders seldom win it all.

"In the last 25 years, there have been a total of 41 first–round leaders, including ties," he wrote. "One won the Masters. One. More first–round leaders over the last quarter century have finished in 21st place than first. Only 17 of the 41 first–round leaders even finished in the Top 10."

Let me amend what I just said. Posnanski clearly is right about the tournament's recent history. What remains to be seen is whether McIlroy will overcome it.

Going into today's final round, McIlroy has a chance to make that two first–round leaders in the last quarter century who have made their leads hold up long enough to win a championship.

We'll find out if he is able to do it later today.

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