One shot at a time

In this pre-Masters column, PGA of America President Ted Bishop takes a look at some favorites in the absence of Tiger Woods and also reminds us of a special competition taking place at Augusta National on Sunday.

By Ted Bishop
PGA of America President

Is it the end of an era or the beginning of a new one? It's hard to imagine Tiger Woods regaining the dominating form that he once enjoyed in professional golf under any circumstances at the age of 38. The golf world was jolted this week with the news that Woods would miss The Masters after undergoing back surgery on Monday.

In all likelihood, Woods might not be back at all in 2014. Graham DeLaet, a Canadian player who made his presence known in last year’s Presidents Cup, missed an entire year with a similar injury. It seems almost certain that Woods will be a no-show at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. It’s a long shot that he will be in the field at the PGA Championship in Louisville later this summer.

So, life goes on in the professional golf world. Certainly there is a void without Woods, but look at the last five Masters and you will see great, dramatic finishes that did not include Woods. Start with Angel Cabrera’s playoff victory over Kenny Perry in 2009. Phil Mickelson hit the famous shot out of the pine straw on the 13th hole in 2010 and beat Lee Westwood.

The next year, it was Charl Schwartzel finishing with an unprecedented four straight birdies to win the Green Jacket. Bubba Watson beat Louis Oosthuizen with that incredible second shot from deep in the woods on the 10th hole to win in 2012. Then, Adam Scott canned a putt in the rain on the 10th green to win a thrilling playoff victory over Cabrera last year.

At no time in the past five years has Woods really been in contention at The Masters. Since he was knocked off by Y.E. Yang in the final round of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National in 2009, Tiger has pretty much been a non-factor in all of the majors. He has suffered two severe injuries during that time, the latest to his back while an earlier injury to his knee also forced surgery.

We all root for Woods to have a speedy recovery because the sport needs him. “In all likelihood, he’s done for the year,” said Golf Digest’s Geoff Shackelford this week on Golf Channel.

I have said for months that 2014 is a transitional year for golf. Many new faces are emerging and some of the familiar ones are seemingly drifting away. Phil Mickelson has an oblique injury that forced him to withdraw last week during the third round of the Valero Texas Open. However, he is playing this week in the Shell Houston Open and got in some practice time at Augusta earlier in the week. Steve Stricker hasn’t been nearly as effective this year as he was in 2013 while playing an abbreviated schedule.

Granted, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Harris English and Jordan Spieth are far from household names. It’s been a weird year as many of the top names in golf have been out of form. So, it begs the question -- who are the favorites next week at Augusta National?

The betting favorite is Rory McIlroy. He is due again to win a major championship. If he duplicates his wins in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, it will be in record-breaking fashion in terms of his margin of victory. Could that happen next week? I think it can.

Adam Scott figures to be a factor even though it will defy the odds to win back-to-back Masters. Dustin Johnson has played well at times, but will he put all facets of his mental game together over 72 holes? Nobody has played more consistently of late than Bubba Watson, who finishes in the top 10 in virtually every event he plays in. Zach Johnson also has won before at Augusta and he could be primed for another Green Jacket.               

Whatever the case, this Masters will be well worth the watch.

It’s a special year at The Masters with the first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship to be conducted Sunday morning on the hallowed grounds. Last year nearly 16,000 kids competed in 121 qualifiers in 19 states, with the hope of being one of the 88 boys and girls, ages 7-15, to make it to the finals at Augusta National.

You can watch the competition live on Golf Channel beginning at 8 a.m. EDT this Sunday. Nels Surtani from Noblesville, Ind., will represent my home state. The 12-year-old Surtani had two aces last year and shot 72 on Pinehurst No. 2. Believe it or not, nine of the competitors in the Drive, Chip and Putt have recorded holes-in-one.   

The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will be expanded to all 50 states this summer. It is anticipated that more than 50,000 kids will compete with the hopes of making the trip to Augusta National in 2015. Registration opens on Sunday, April 6 at www.drivechipandputt.com.