Players on Tiger’s tail have Major advantage

Clearly, there are two golf universes. There is the one in which everyone else plays. Then there is the one in which only Tiger Woods competes.

Consider how they are different.

It has been suggested that Woods is playing with more pressure on him in this 77th Masters than in any other previous Major. Why? Because at 37, time is running out in his quest to match Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors and if he were to come up empty, he would head into the US Open in June in the throes of a full, five-year drought in the biggest tournaments.

Meanwhile, there are a handful of players — Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker, for example — who are not feeling stressed, thinking they are in prime position to win their first Major.

“I feel like I’ve got all of the boxes ticked and it’s down to execution,” said Scott, whose 12th Masters appearance is his 48th chance at a Major championship. That he’s winless may seem as a futile career when compared to Woods, but at 32, the personable Aussie considers himself in the prime of his career and far more prepared to break through than at any other time.

Now, if you compare Scott to mere mortals — such as Phil Mickelson, for example, who won his first Major, the 2004 Masters, when he was 33 — then you would have to say he’s in a good place. Ditto Garcia, 33; Donald, 35; Rose, 32; and Snedeker, 32.

Only thing is, this is Woods’ world and they’re all swept up in it, so they can’t ever avoid comparisons, unfair that they may be.

“You’ve just got to get on with it,” Scott said, shrugging off questions about how he let the 2012 British Open slip away and thus is in his 13th pro season and still looking to do something that took Woods less than seven months: win a Major.

“There’s no time to sit and feel sorry for myself.”

That’s not exactly a sentiment that Garcia has mastered. Remember as a 19-year-old how he collapsed into his mother’s arms, a river of tears flowing following rounds of 89 and 83? And how he blamed the golf gods for stealing the 2007 British Open from him at Carnoustie? And snarled about more Irish luck at Oakland Hills in 2008 because Pádraig Harrington stole that Major from him, too?

Like Scott, this year’s Masters is Garcia’s 48th opportunity to win a Major and nothing about what he’s done this season (in three stroke play events on the PGA Tour he has been T7, T3, T13) would suggest he isn’t in form to do just that.

Donald, meanwhile, has demonstrated such brilliance that he has achieved No 1 status in the past and won money titles in the same season in both Europe and America. And Rose? He’s presently ranked third in the world and has won a World Golf Championship and a FedEx Cup playoff tournament in the last two seasons. As for Snedeker, all he did a year ago was win the season-ending Tour Championship, a $10m bonus for being FedEx Cup champ, and then won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to begin 2013.

You would need a team of accountants to add up the money these five have earned in their careers, but when you total their Major championships and get zero, it proves two points: one, it’s further proof that what Woods has accomplished is beyond explanation; and two, it’s still prime time for these 30-somethings.

“I hope the process is over,” said Snedeker, taking on his sixth Masters and 22nd Major championship try. “I’m ready. I feel like my game’s ready.”

Nothing any of them did on a murky and muggy opening round indicates they aren’t going to at least be able to feel good about the way they started. Donald, paired with Woods, opened with a one-under 71. Earlier, both Rose and Snedeker had shot 70s. Garcia, meanwhile, went out late and turned in four-under 32, alongside Scott, also to the turn in 32.

Positive stuff on a day of benign wind conditions that extended optimum scoring chances, which these world-class players jumped all over. Out in the third game, unheralded Englishman David Lynn shot 68, though it took only six more games for that to be surpassed, a 66 by Aussie Marc Leishman.

Yet, while the focus seemed to revolve around what Woods was doing (70) — remember, it’s his world; everyone else is just along for the tee time — quality players with their own Major championship quests crossed off day one as a job well done. It might be about winning No 15 in one man’s universe, but for them, No 1 remains a challenge which they feel up to.

“Expectations are very hard to deal with when you don’t have the necessary skills to back it up,” Rose said. “[But] I think now that I have a lot of trust in my game and I feel like if I put myself in a situation with a chance to win... I feel like I have the tools at my disposal.”

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