Dream to play Tiger Woods of old may backfire on young players


They asked for it. Now they’ve got it. And now it’s their turn to deal with it.

For the past few years, the younger generation of golfers who grew up watching Tiger Woods dominate and intimidate pined to have the chance to compete against him while he was playing like the major-winning Tiger Woods of old.

This week, particularly in Sunday’s Masters final round at Augusta National, they got their wish.

Which brings us to this question: Should these players be careful for what they wished for?

Woods, en route to winning his fifth Masters to end an 11-year drought without a major and 14-year gap without a Masters win, left those of that very younger generation in his wake on his way to Butler Cabin to collect his fifth green jacket.

Is this an omen of things to come for Woods — and his current crop of competitors — now that he’s broken through and proven to himself that he can resume winning majors again?

If it is, it should be rather concerning to those young players who’ve been wanting to get a piece of him in prime form.

Tony Finau, who played in the final group with Woods, and with whom he was tied entering Sunday, was most eloquent and insightful about the Woods dynamic while speaking before the Masters final round.

He called playing in the final group in a major with Woods “something that I’ve dreamed of for a long time.’’

“The first golf tournament I ever watched was the ’97 Masters,’’ Finau said. “Just watching Tiger dominate the way that he did was very inspiring for me for some reason as a kid, and I took up the game the summer of ’97, I think in huge part because of Tiger. Tiger taught us how to compete. He’s playing against a different generation now. He’s playing against guys that he kind of bred. I think all of us relish now having a chance to compete against him.’’

In the end, it didn’t work out so well for Finau on Sunday. He hit his tee shot into Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th hole, as did Francesco Molinari, the leader at the time, gifting Woods a tie for that lead with double bogeys.

One hole later, Woods birdied and took a lead he would never relinquish.

Did Woods’ presence — the “Tiger Effect’’ — have any influence over how those players in contention around him failed to perform at their peak when the pressure began to rise?

There’s no tangible way to measure these things. But Finau did concede that Woods’ presence is something to deal with.

“I stay in my lane and do my thing no matter who I’m playing with, but there’s always a ‘Tiger Effect,’ no matter who you are,’’ Finau said. “I’m not going to act like it’s not there, because I know that it is.’’

Asked after Sunday’s round if his crucial misstep on No. 12 had anything to do with Woods’ presence in his traditional Sunday red, Finau said, “I don’t know if it affected my game or anything. [But] my time is coming.’’

The question is whether a Woods resurgence will lessen the chances for players like Finau, who’s seeking to win his first major?

For example, how many more tournaments, including majors, would Phil Mickelson have won had his prime not coincided with that of Woods?

For some of the younger players, like Xander Schauffele, who finished in a tie for second at the Masters, the experience of being around Woods is still a novelty. As such, he sounded a lot more thrilled at Woods breaking through to win his 15th major than he sounded devastated that he wasn’t able to win his first.

“It’s hard to really feel bad about how I played … because I just witnessed history,’’ Schauffele said. “It’s what I watched as a kid. It was like a dream, honestly.’’

Yes, but if Woods turns this Masters victory into another one of his historical runs through majors, that dream will turn into a nightmare for the likes of Schauffele, Finau, Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau who are seeking their first majors only to keep getting denied by their idol.

It, too, could affect those who have already broken through to win majors, but crave more.

Koepka, a co-runner-up Sunday who’s won three majors in the last two years, said, “To be able to come back out here and have the Tiger of old back, as a fan, I love it, even though [I] finished second place [and am] a little bummed out. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. You want to play against the best to ever play.’’

If Woods turns this Masters into a run of more majors, these players should remember that this is what they asked for.