Apr. 8—AUGUSTA — Tuesday night was the latest edition of the Masters Club at Augusta National Golf Club, the most desired dinner in golf.
Past Masters champions and honorary members gathered and dined on a menu selected by defending champion Dustin Johnson, and it was annual business as usual for all of the usual suspects.
All, except for one.
A seat was left open Tuesday night for Tiger Woods, who is not in Augusta as he recovers from leg injuries suffered in a February car accident — Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday he blamed the crash entirely on excessive speed, saying Woods was driving 84 to 87 mph on a stretch of road with a 45 mph speed limit.
“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight. It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year,” Woods tweeted Tuesday.
In recent years, Wednesday at the Masters has meant a practice round grouping of Woods and pals like Fred Couples and Justin Thomas and included Kevin Kisner two years ago.
That didn’t happen this year, and Tuesday Couples tweeted a photo of himself wearing a Woods-logoed mask. The caption read “Thinking of my guy @tigerwoods during this week @themasters. I’ll miss you tonight at dinner. Not the same without you.”
“Yeah, we talked (Tuesday) four or five different times throughout the day, and I sent him a picture playing the first hole, and then I somehow snuck a picture last night of Dustin, and I sent that to him and he goes, oh man, I love it, miss it,” Couples said.
“You know, he’s doing fantastic. I think the idea of him not being here maybe hit him yesterday morning, but again, Justin Thomas and I — I’m sure a lot of guys do. All I know is Justin and I, we’re on the same thread, and we tried to get him in a rare mood, and we got him in a rare mood. He’s very funny, and he said a few things, called me a chop on one of them and I stink and blah blah blah, and then I wore the mask, but he’s doing well. But he really wants to be here.”
Thomas said he visited Woods a few times last week and has been texting regularly with him, and he said playing in that practice round group with Woods, a five-time champion, and Couples, who won in 1992, taught him a lot about how to play Augusta National.
“He’s bummed he’s not here playing practice rounds with us, and we hate it, too,” Thomas said. “I’m very, very lucky that I somehow got thrown into that practice round group with Tiger and Freddie the last four years or whatever it is, especially around this place, I just follow them around like puppy dogs. Wherever they go, that’s where I go after it. If they hit chips from somewhere, I go hit chips from there.”
Rory McIlroy has also been over to visit, and he said he and fellow pros in South Florida like Thomas, Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka have a responsibility to try to keep Woods’ spirit up during the rehabilitation process and help him get back out on the course with them.
This, of course, isn’t the first time Woods has missed time due to injury — between various surgeries to his knee and back in addition to injuries suffered in other accidents — and McIlroy said he’s always missed when he can’t make it to an event.
That doesn’t change this week, especially at an event that for many is synonymous with Woods.
“You know, I’ve had some success here but for some reason I see Tiger and I see red,” said Xander Schauffele, who’s making his fourth Masters appearance. “… I’m looking forward to creating some memories myself here on property. But until then, it’s sort of what I think about when someone says ‘the Masters.'”
McIlroy, like Thomas and Couples, said Woods has been in good spirits during their visits. He said the initial coverage of the crash plus the photos and videos from the site had him fearing Woods would be stuck in a hospital bed for several months. He said fortunately that’s not the case, and he knows Woods has the mental toughness to be back at Augusta National for next year’s Masters.
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t — any time Tiger Woods tees it up in a golf tournament, it’s better,” McIlroy said. “It’s better for the tournament. It’s better for the players that are involved. It’s better for everyone. Unfortunately, he’s not here this year. … But, you know, I know he’d love to be here, and I’m sure he’s going to put everything he has into trying to be ready to play next year.”