Tiger Woods (189487)

The Masters, arguably the most venerable and prestigious golf tournament in the world, begins today at the historic Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., which is known as much for its historically elitist and exclusionary policies as it is for its spectacularly manicured greens.

The event, first played in 1934, was long a symbol of racial and gender discrimination, segregation and white privilege, as was the sport under which it was held. So it was ostensibly divine irony that in 1997, 63 years after its inception, 21-year-old Tiger Woods, a man of African-American descent, would become the youngest golfer to ever win the Masters and break the tournament’s four-day scoring record that had stood for 32 years.

Woods would go on to win three more Masters in addition to winning the U.S. Open three times, The Open Championship (British Open) three times and the PGA Championship four times. His total of 14 Major wins is second only to the great Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18. Alas, it is highly unlikely that Woods, now 41, will ever again experience donning the ceremonial green jacket bestowed upon the Masters winner.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be competing in this year’s Masters,” Woods posted on his website Tigerwoods.com last week.

He explained, “I did about everything I could to play, but my back rehabilitation didn’t allow me the time to get tournament ready. I’m especially upset because it’s a special anniversary for me that’s filled with a lot of great memories. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I won my first green jacket.

“I have no timetable for my return but I will continue my diligent effort to recover, and want to get back out there as soon as possible.” Indeed, over the past decade Woods has been committed to the countless hours of physical therapy and training necessary to recover from multiple surgical procedures including to address back and knee issues.

Nevertheless, his body continues to show little loyalty to his desire to consistently play 72-holes of competitive golf at a high level. Woods last competed in the Masters in 2014, has missed three of the last four and hasn’t been in a tournament since withdrawing from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February after only 18 holes.

It would have been inconceivable back when Woods was a fixture at the top of golf’s world rankings, or unthinkable in 2008, when he won his last Major at the U.S Open, or as recently as 2013, when Woods was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year, that by April 2017 he would have plummeted to 775 in the rankings.

Golf has seen new young stars emerge as Woods’ nonappearance at the foremost events has become commonplace. He remains a towering figure in sports and culture, maintaining his status as one of the most recognizable personalities on the planet despite his weakening stature on the links.

Woods transformed the economics of golf and bridged an era of traditionalists and young stars with swagger who embrace sports science and analytics. A plethora of viewers who previously had no interest in golf would tune in as Woods would prowl courses on Sunday, the final day of four rounds, in his customary red shirt and black pants, hunting another dramatic or dominating victory.

Those moments seem so distant now. While he may return to the course over the next few months and perhaps get a few more swings at the Masters next year, at the moment golf is moving on without the once remarkable Woods.