Tiger Woods hits from the sand at 10 during a practice round for the Masters on April 3, 2018, at Augusta National.

USA TODAY Images

Silverman: Tiger Woods Makes Compelling Return To Masters, But Look For DJ To Win

When He's On His Game, Dustin Johnson Is Tough To Beat

Steve Silverman
April 04, 2018 - 9:34 am

The Masters is never just another golf tournament. For that matter, it is not just another major, either.

The U.S. Open may be the sport’s national championship and The Open Championship – aka the British Open -- may have more tradition, but the Masters simply brings the best golfers in the world together in perhaps the most beautiful golf setting possible.

While golf itself has issues with exclusivity, racism and sexism, in its purest form, the game is about physical, mental and emotional competition, and this tournament represents the sport at its highest level.

So, the Masters is always about excellence, and this year’s tournament is the most anticipated in decades.

MORE: Liguori: Tiger Woods' Resurgence, Wins From Top Names Stir Masters Frenzy

While some of the hyperbolists out there are saying this is the most anticipated Masters ever, it may not eclipse the days in the 1960s when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and two legends named Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan all completed.

The 1965 tournament saw Nicklaus win by nine strokes over Palmer and Player, who tied for second, while Nelson and Hogan both made the cut and finished 15th and 21st, respectively.

That’s just for a little perspective. The 2018 Masters will have Rory McIlroy back in form, as he recently won the Palmer Invitational and showed the all-around power and precision of his game. Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters winner, is playing wonderful golf, and 47-year-old Phil Mickelson also earned a recent trip to the winner’s circle.

Dustin Johnson may be the best ball striker in the world, and when he is on his game, it may be difficult for anyone to beat him. That includes Jordan Spieth, who has already won three of the majors in his young career and is clearly one of the game’s brightest stars. Throw in Jason Day, Justin Thomas and defending champion Sergio Garcia, and the Masters is bulging with talent.

Dustin Johnson
USA TODAY Images

That’s not even the big story. This year’s Masters marks the return of Tiger Woods to the golf conversation, and it is a lot more than trivia, history or what might have been.

Woods has not played at the famed Augusta, Georgia, course since 2015, and many thought his days as a legitimate competitor were over.

Woods has been struggling with injuries for years, and most recently, his back issues kept him from competing on the tour. However, last year’s back fusion surgery appears to have curtailed his problems and allowed him to emerge once again.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines or taking his kids to their activities, Woods has returned to the tour and is performing quite well.

He has not been in championship form, but he has been solidly improving. He has played in five official PGA Tour events this year and has made the cut in four of them. After finishing 12th in the Honda Classic in February, he tied for second in the Valspar Championship in March and tied for fifth the following week at the Palmer Invitational.

Woods was good but not great in both of those tournaments. He showed the creativity and magic around the greens that fans used to see on a regular basis from him, and he also made some lengthy putts that recalled images from his championship days.

He also demonstrated excellent club-head speed that resulted in impressive distance. He must continue to do that, and make sure he finds the fairways if he is going to contend in Augusta.

It may be too much to expect Tiger to collect his fifth green jacket and his 15th major title. He has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. A win at the Masters is what all golfers want, and Woods has his best chance in years. He is strong and apparently healthy, and his game is rounding into shape.

His presence makes the always-compelling Masters a can’t-miss event, and sports fans are counting the minutes until he tees off Thursday.

Can Woods possibly win? As long as he can keep the ball in the fairway, the answer is yes. However, the belief here is that when Johnson is on his game and can get off to a solid start, nobody has more to offer on the golf course.

He was injured the day before the event last year and could not play, but all systems are go this year. Look for Johnson to win the event and earn his first green jacket.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy