TUCSON, Ariz. - “The Masters is the epitome of all your life of playing golf,” says one member of the 49er Country Club in Tucson.
You won't find many different opinions than that from golfers here in Tucson. The first major of the year is underway, in a major way. Because Tiger Woods is back at Augusta for the first time since 2015. “The ratings were the highest in a non-major in the last 5 years,” said Derek Deminsky, pro and instructor at the club. And those were for the 2 tournaments Tiger played in to prepare for his return to Augusta, the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
For many at 49er Country Club, who came in after their rounds to watch the first rounds of the Masters, Tiger's return isn't a big deal. But they were all in agreement on one thing. “He's good for golf,” said Mark Bishop, one member. “Golf has never been the same without Tiger in there. And that says a lot I know, but he's good for golf, he's good for the local clubs, he's good for the sport overall.”
And these golfers remember the impact of Tiger when he came to play in the match play in Tucson. “Similar to what you're seeing on tv now, if you watched the practice round yesterday, you would've thought that it's the last round and he's the leader. Everyone wants to see Tiger still. And it was that way in Tucson,” said Deminsky. “If he wins, I think people want to say they were there.”
But regardless if Tiger adds another green jacket to his storied career this weekend, his return to a major will help more than just tv ratings, it'll grow what some call a dying sport. “It's been kind of difficult for golf the last decade or so. A little excitement can't hurt,” says David Pittman, another member in the restaurant to watch the end of the first round at Augusta.
Tiger shot a 73, one over par in the first round. He trails the leader, Jordan Spieth, by 7 strokes. Spieth carded a 6 under par in his opening round.