After an up-and-down half decade, Tiger Woods turned back the clock this weekend, coming just one stroke shy of winning his first tournament in almost five years. Woods may not have left the 2018 Valspar Championship with a trophy, but with less than a month left before the Masters, we have to ask: Can Tiger win at Augusta? NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico joined the ShackHouse crew to discuss.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Mike Tirico: I go back to last year when Tiger played in the Hero [World Challenge] and made all those birdies even though he finished at the bottom of the field, and the conversation was, “Well, what do you think will be a good week for Tiger?” And I said, “Just finish, and then stack finishes on top of finishes.” And when he went to Dubai and didn’t finish, that was like, “OK, that’s a setback.” And obviously there was another surgery. So I think having seen that, plus knowing it was such a significant last-chance surgery, if you will, I don’t think we could have sat here and forecast he could have made steady progress. And that’s what he did. And I said on Golf Channel in the morning on Sunday, or the early afternoon that I thought if Tiger was in the hunt with four, five holes to go, even if he didn’t win, it would be progress. And when I saw him smile coming off the 18th green, it wasn’t like a wry smile. It was a smile of satisfaction. Of course he wanted to win. And of course nothing short of winning satisfies him, but I think he knows he can do it now. And I don’t know if he knew Sunday morning when he woke up if he could do it again. So I think that alone is what I walk away with as I’m really impressed and surprised by this.
Joe House: I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, we’re at the moment in your schedule where you are now about to pivot over to full-time golf, and then some horse racing as well. Is that right?
Tirico: Yeah, you are.
House: Good. So here’s my question for you. One of the things that Shack and I talked about the very beginning of the year that was tantalizing, and nobody is better than you to help us contextualize this, is the moment in golf right now where there are a bunch of accomplished players that are sort of advancing in age. Like guys in their mid-30s and early 40s that, if healthy, can stand up to this youth movement that we’ve kind of seen over the past couple of years. As you’re sort of thinking about your upcoming broadcast season, what do you think about that particular dynamic? ...
Tirico: Going into the major season, and we still have Bay Hill and we have the match play and Houston. Who knows what’s going to happen in those three. We’ve got everything. We have everything you could ask for. Just think in the last four weeks. Let’s take Tiger out of the equation for a second, and I tell you that Bubba [Watson] won, Justin [Thomas] won, Mickelson beat Justin in a playoff, and Paul Casey—who’s had trouble on Sundays but is a really good player—shot 65 on Sunday to go win! On a tough golf course! ... And on top of that, you throw in the guy that took the sport from there to here. And that’s Tiger. And when you do that, you’ve got everything you could ask for coming into the Masters. Even if Tiger doesn’t win, you saw that he can. You saw that Phil just did. And you’ve got all those young guys. And by the way, we haven’t mentioned Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who if you drop them down at Augusta National, they’re on the first page of the leaderboard on the weekend. So I caution to say this without really giving it thought—I can’t remember in the last 20 years something this rich going into the first full week of April. It’s awesome.
House: I’m going to let Shack follow-up, but I have to tell you, I knew you were the right guy to ask that question. You should see the hairs standing up on the back of my neck right now. It’s so exciting I can’t really contain myself!
Geoff Shackelford: We just need the weather to hold now. Last year we had a lot of guys playing well going in, but it didn’t have the Tiger element, Mike. ... I’ve always believed that golf is the one sport where you get this clashing of generations, and we may actually get it. Every key moment in the history of the game there’s been this. And it feels like we’re headed toward that where these young guys are going to get one last crack at the old guys, and the old guys are going to get to show them what it’s all about. Do you cherish that part of the game? The old-guy element?
Tirico: A thousand percent. Because in tennis, you don’t have the hand-holding of the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. ... Maybe getting beat up in the Ryder Cup has added to the depth of the enjoyment for golf fans of this cross-generational thing that as you said, Geoff, has happened over and over. But when you consider Tiger’s presence around the Ryder Cup, and those guys—and we saw this, Ryder and Presidents Cup—the guys love being around Tiger. Patrick Reed in the Tiger knockoff costume on Sunday—it’s hysterical, right? It’s just the best. And here they are playing in back-to-back groups, and club-twirling, and the whole deal. And Patrick Reed, that terrible weather day when Tiger was the only one—it was Ryder Cup, I guess—when Tiger was the one guy who went out with Patrick to walk because nobody else—just that stuff. And now here are these guys in back-to-back groups competing. When the Mickelson-JT playoff started last weekend ... I was thinking about the Mickelson Tuesday games on tour. And how all these young guys have kind of, almost like minnows, been around it, understood it—it’s like the Phil rite of passage, get these guys involved in that. The adoration of Mickelson after he put his neck on the line Ryder Cup–wise from all these younger guys. And now you’ve got them all really getting to the first tee on Thursday morning when they say, “Fore, please. Phil Mickelson now driving. Fore, please. Justin Thomas now driving,” they all think they can win. And they’ve all won together, and you brought up the cross-generational that only this sport gives us on a regular basis. Back to the point earlier, that’s why maybe this feels maybe a little more exciting to me even three weeks before Augusta.