For seven years in the 1990s, golf was my life.
I worked for a golf magazine in Florida and, when not working, was playing golf. Or practicing golf. Or watching golf. And during each of the four majors, I participated in fantasy golf drafts — along the lines of the popular NFL and Major League Baseball fantasy league drafts.
All golf, all the time.
Tiger Woods turned pro my last year in Florida and I never got a shot at him in these pre-majors drafts. Even if I did, I don’t know if I would have picked him, say, No. 1 for the 1997 Masters. Who saw him doing what he did en route to the title that year?
But very early in his pro career, some of these leagues deemed him undraftable, much like Wayne Gretzky was off limits in those fledgling NHL fantasy drafts of the 1980s. These fantasy-league types believed that, with ridiculously dominant forces like Woods on the PGA Tour or Gretzky in the NHL, the fantasy league title was ultimately decided by the luck of the draw on draft day.
Because Woods and Gretzky were off the boards for a good decade in some of these leagues, they weren’t even considered come draft time. But superstars get old and retire. Or have their game decimated by off-the-field/course issues and the like.
It’s probably been a few years since Woods was off the board in some of those pre-Masters drafts. With the Masters starting Thursday, these drafts are in full swing, and I doubt Woods is the No. 1 pick in most. In fact, I’ve heard many say he’s not even in their top five.
That might be a big mistake.
Yes, like most others, I also believe that Phil Mickelson is the overwhelming favorite in the Masters. But Augusta has been Woods’ happy place — he’s won there four times. Even last year, when his life was in shambles, he was in the hunt until the end, ultimately fading to a tie for fourth place during a week when Woods time and time again called his performance disappointing. The course sets up well for Tiger, even when he’s not himself.
And if he’s going to get back to being himself, I think it’s got to happen soon. Now. Before he gets too far removed from the Tiger of old. He said he ultimately prepares for four tournaments a year — the majors. Regardless of what we’ve seen from him or heard about him and his game in the last year, this is his everything.
When it comes to these drafts or picking winners for golf’s majors, I usually go with my gut. This year my gut is telling me Bubba Watson. He hits it high and long, two pluses at Augusta. And I just have a feeling that this is his time.
Woods’ time, meanwhile, may be running out. And I’ll never count out a desperate Tiger Woods.