McIlroy Favored for 2014 Masters, Woods Out After Surgery

Posted on: April 5, 2014, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: April 3, 2014, 08:20h.

In the weeks before the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, there was just one question on everyone’s mind: would Tiger Woods be playing? The answer finally came on April Fool’s Day, but it was no joke: Tiger Woods would miss The Masters for the first time in two decades.

The Masters – which begins on April 10 – has been the home of some of the signature moments in Woods’ career. But the world’s most famous golfer won’t be playing at Augusta this year.

Back Problems Troubling Woods

For the 38-year-old Woods, injuries have become more common with age. While he’s dealt with a number of ailments over the years, the current problem is with his back.

Tiger Woods is battling back trouble, which will keep him out of this year’s Masters. (Image: AP)

Woods has never missed The Masters over the course of his career, and he has won the tournament four times. But this year will see him watching from the sidelines. Woods underwent back surgery – a microdiscectomy, to be specific – to help repair a pinched nerve.

“After attempting to get ready for the Masters, and failing to make the necessary progress, I decided, in consultation with my doctors, to have this procedure done,” Wood said in a statement on his website.

The injury was first noticed by fans at the Honda Classic. On March 2, Woods dropped out of the final round at that event due to pain in his lower back. The following week, he tried to defend his title in the Cadillac Championship at Doral, but was clearly affected by the back issue again in the final round.

That led to Woods withdrawing from the Arnold Palmer Invitational the next weekend because of back pain that just wouldn’t seem to go away. While Woods had previously struggled with back issues, none had lingered for nearly this long.

Woods was hopeful that he could return in time for The Masters in the weeks leading into the tournament.

“I’ve had a couple of weeks off and getting treatment and just working on trying to get ready for Augusta,” Woods said at a press conference in late March.

But ultimately, surgery was required, and that meant there was no chance he could play. According to the statement on his site, Woods will begin rehabilitation this week, and hopes to return to play sometime this summer.

McIlroy Favored by Bookmakers

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is the bookmakers’ choice to win the 2014 Masters. (Image: Chuck Burton/AP)

At the age of 38, Woods would still have been one of the favorites to win The Masters – but he wouldn’t have been the first choice. Instead, that honor was already going to a much younger competitor from across the pond.

At sportsbooks like Bet365, 24-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is the odds-on favorite at 7-1. McIlroy has never won The Masters, with his highest finish of 15th place coming in 2011. But he has won both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, and was the 2012 PGA Player of the Year. McIlroy is currently ranked 7th in the World Golf Rankings, but has been in good form of late, finishing tied for 2nd in the Honda Classic earlier in March.

While Tiger was the second choice before he dropped out, that position now sits with Adam Scott. The Australian was last year’s Masters champion, and comes in as a 10-1 favorite. Also in the group of leading players are three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson at 12-1 and Jason Day (14-1), who is currently ranked 4th in the world.

It’s worth noting that both Mickelson and Day are suffering from injuries themselves: Mickelson dropped out of the Valero Texas Open just a week ago because of an oblique injury, while Day hasn’t played competitive golf since winning the Accenture Match Play Championship in February due to injuries in his hand.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have both won The Masters multiple times, but are now dealing with injury concerns. (Image: AP)

 Large Field Expected This Year

Of course, this is golf, and among the professional ranks are dozens of players who could emerge to win The Masters if they get hot for four days. The Masters has developed a reputation as the most exclusive tournament among the four golf majors, but this year’s field will be a bit larger than most.

It appears as though the Masters will keep its streak of keeping the field under 100 players alive for the 48th consecutive year – but not by much. There are a number of ways players can qualify for an invitation to the tournament, including:

-Having previously won the Masters
-Being one of the last five winners of the U.S. Open, British Open, or PGA Championship
-Finishing in the top 12 (or tied for a top 12 spot) at last year’s Masters
-Finishing in the top four (or tied) at one of last year’s other majors
-Winning a significant PGA Tour event in the last year
-Being ranked in the top 50 in the 2013 end of year World Golf Rankings
-Being ranked in the top 50 on the March 31 World Golf Rankings list
-Winning one of several major amateur championships

All told, about 95 players have qualified and are expected to play (several former champions have since retired, including legends like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer).

The 2014 Masters Tournament is the 78th edition of the event, which was first held in 1934. The tournament begins on April 10, with the final round scheduled for April 13.

The Masters at a Glance

Where: Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia
When: April 10-13
Prize Pool: $8 million
Winner’s Share: $1,440,000
Defending Champion: Adam Scott
Most Wins: Jack Nicklaus (6)
Recent Winners: Adam Scott (2013), Bubba Watson (2012), Charl Schwartzel (2011), Phil Mickelson (2010)

Masters History

The Masters began as the Augusta National Invitational, and was first held in 1934. That tournament was won by Horton Smith, who won $1,500 his for efforts. The tournament only began being known as “The Masters” in 1939.

The Masters was not played in 1943-1945 due to World War II. However, the tournament has since been played annually, featuring a field of the world’s best golfers. In addition to the substantial prize money, the winner of each year’s Masters receives a green jacket, which symbolizes not only their victory, but also their honorary membership at the golf club. Winners are typically given their green jacket by the previous champion. Tournament winners also receive a gold medal.

Although small adjustments have been made to the course over the years, the distinctive layout has remained largely the same throughout the history of the tournament. The course is on the site of a former plant nursery, and each hole is named after a tree or shrub, from the first hole (Tea Olive) to the last (Holly). The 11th through 13th holes are known as “Amen Corner,” owing to their difficulty and potential for exciting moments.