Sure, Tiger Woods is the betting favorite, and he's been terrific so far this year in non-majors on the PGA Tour. But he's not actually going to win a fifth green jacket, right? Right?!
Both recent form and Tiger's history at this tournament suggest that this is not as far-fetched as it might seem. CBS lead broadcaster Jim Nantz spoke Wednesday about how there is more hype entering the 2018 Masters than he has seen since he started covering the tournament in 1986.
"Tiger Woods has returned and far surpassed anyone's lofty expectations of what he'd be able to do this quickly," Nantz said. "It's exciting for the game. It's indisputable that there's a greater buzz when he's in the middle of it. At the same time ... virtually every one of the best players in the world ... have also seen their games rise to a very healthy level approaching Augusta. I've had 33 years ... it's always highly anticipated, but ... this is probably the most anticipated Masters any of us have seen in our lifetime."
Nantz mentioned Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas surrounding Woods as additional reasons for why this Masters could be so great. But it's Tiger, as we all know, that is the most compelling figure -- not only as a competitor but also as a potential champion.
"I think there's a difference between challenging and winning," said Nantz. "Challenging, we'll have to see what that means. But if he was to win it, you're going to be talking about one of the epic moments in the history of the sport. It's as simple as that. However he gets there, shooting a low round on Sunday or winning in a playoff, to have him back in Butler Cabin would truly be one of the all-time scripts."
Part of that is because Woods is battling demons of old, both with his body and ones he created. Three-time winner Nick Faldo noted that this time last year Woods playing (much less winning) this tournament was unfathomable.
"Last year, I believe, you should ask Jack Nicklaus what Tiger said to Jack a year ago [at the Champions Dinner]," recalled Faldo. "I believe it's not a secret, I think it's out there. He said, 'That's it, I'm done.' Tiger was that negative. To come back to the level he's at now and being able to compete, very much like Phil, you get in there enough times and you're that good and you're that smart ... it could be mission accomplished."
As much attention as the Woods narrative has gotten, it does sort of feel like we're underplaying the absurdity of it all. Hobbled beyond belief in 2017. Swinging faster than anybody in golf in 2018. What a world. The perfect ending (or, I guess, checkpoint) would be Woods winning the first major of the year. Nantz started dreaming out loud, and I got giddy thinking about the possibilities.
"This is an event that has an amazing ability to be able to produce these Hollywood-quality stories," Nantz said. "... You walk away most years with your head spinning, 'How in the world did this happen? How did serendipity present itself again at Augusta National?'
"We're going into all of this in anticipation for this year. Maybe it's not this year, maybe it's not here next year. The way he's playing, there's going to be a lot more years of Tiger competing at the highest level. Whenever that happens, you're going to be talking about this on as grand a scale as Jack [Nicklaus winning] in 1986. I really believe that."