Column as I see ’em:
The Masters lost much of its intrinsic drama Tuesday when Tiger Woods announced he would miss next week’s event after undergoing surgery for a pinched nerve in his back.
Golf has carried on without Tiger before, but Augusta simply isn’t the same when the sport’s most compelling figure isn’t in the field. He won his first major there in 1997, by a record 12 shots. Since winning his fourth green jacket in 2005, he has finished in the top five six times in eight tries.
Even when he’s not winning, Woods makes headlines. Last year, when he finished fourth, he created an international stir with a controversial drop after hitting into the water in the second round.
This setback raises further doubt about Tiger’s chances of passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career majors. He has been stuck on 14 since winning the U.S. Open on a bum knee in 2008. His streak of non-winning majors is at 22 after last year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Doctors predict Woods will recover fully, but the estimate for his return is around four months. That would mean missing the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in mid-June and possibly the British Open at Royal Liverpool in late July.
In a statement, Woods said he was optimistic about the future. But he’s 38. Time is running out. After the ’08 Open, I thought he could get to 25 major victories and be competitive into his late 40s. But that was before the injuries and personal issues.
Assuming he misses the U.S. Open, Woods will have gone a full six years without a major win. Considering his injuries and the depth of today’s fields, it’s hard to imagine him getting five more. No man has won two majors after his 43rd birthday.
Woods was excited for this year’s Masters. It would have been his 20th in a row. He has been in every one since he played as an amateur in 1995. They call it “a tradition like no other.” Minus Tiger, the tradition won’t be quite like itself.
• I don’t doubt the Bills and Texans discussed their first-round picks in this year’s draft. Bill O’Brien, the new Houston coach, has been a close friend of Buffalo coach Doug Marrone since their days as assistants at Georgia Tech. But the idea that the Bills would trade up for the No. 1 overall pick strikes me as pure whimsy, the kind of speculation that feeds the gurus’ insatiable need for draft fodder at this time of year.
• Why would the Bills do it? I can’t see them moving up for a quarterback. General manager Doug Whaley has sworn his allegiance to EJ Manuel. The team’s brain trust has invested in Manuel. They’d come off like a bunch of panicked amateurs if they made a move that belied that faith after one year.
There are lingering questions about Manuel. Still, it would be foolish to trade up to No. 1. The price would be too high, for one thing. It would cost them the No. 9 pick, next year’s first-rounder and more. They’ve made desperate moves for quarterbacks before and lived to regret it.
This is supposedly the deepest draft in years. The Bills have a good chance to get a player they love at No. 9. The QB class doesn’t seem as great as advertised. The Bills shouldn’t be trading picks, they should be stacking drafts and building a roster.
• There’s no mid-major surprise this year, but this is a nice, balanced Final Four.
You have Florida, the favorite and overall top seed, which has four senior starters and is riding a 30-game winning streak. Wisconsin is the steady No. 2 seed whose 66-year-old coach, Bo Ryan, finally got to a Final Four after laboring for decades in the profession (like John Beilein a year ago).
• There’s Connecticut, the long shot with the hottest player in guard Shabazz Napier; and finally, former No. 1 Kentucky, with its five freshman and glitzy coach, John Calipari, crashing the dance as an 8 seed after underachieving for most of a season. I like Florida over Kentucky in an all-SEC final.
• The Spurs are at it again. They’ve won 18 in a row and are making it look easy. They won by 26 at Indiana on Monday. They have the best record in the NBA, three games clear of Oklahoma City in the West and six ahead of the Heat.
I’m sure the skeptics are out there, wondering if Tim Duncan can hold up and looking for a chic pick to win it all. The Spurs are a year older, but they’re better than a year ago, when they blew the Finals against Miami. This year, they finish the deal.
• What a joke, Milwaukee fans giving Ryan Braun a standing ovation in his first game back from a PED suspension. Mild applause would have sufficed. Braun cheated and lied through his teeth. It’s another reminder that fans have an infinite capacity to forgive and forget, as Dominik Hasek has discovered.
• Give Sidney Crosby the Hart Trophy and be done with it. Crosby leads the NHL in scoring by a 16-point margin. He has played every game. He has been the definition of MVP, leading a Penguins team that has lost more games to injury than any other squad to the top of the Metropolitan Division.
• Yadier Molina homered for the only Cardinals run in a 1-0 win over the Reds opening day. He made two great defensive plays and caught a three-hitter. I thought he was the NL MVP the last two years. Miguel Cabrera went further. He calls Molina the most valuable player in baseball.
• Ryan Miller is loving life in St. Louis. In March, he was 9-3-1 with a 2.18 goals-against. Miller’s save percentage was a modest .912, but he faced only 24.4 shots per game in March. That’s the fewest shots per game he’s seen over any full month in his NHL career.
• As of Tuesday, the Raptors’ lead in the Atlantic was only one game over Brooklyn. They need to win the division AND finish ahead of the fourth overall team to get the No. 3 seed and a likely first-round series with the Wizards.
• The fact that the Bills pursued DeSean Jackson and are considering a wideout in the first round does not reflect well on Stevie Johnson, a No. 1 receiver in salary only.
• One way or another, it promises to be a very emotional weekend when Andre Reed goes in the Hall of Fame in Canton early in August.
• It was nice to see Ted Nolan get a well-deserved, multi-year contract extension. It only took 17 years.