Chat with Jason Sobel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com golf columnist Jason Sobel stops by to chat about the return of Tiger Woods and the golf season.
Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He was ESPN.com's golf editor from 2004-2007 and now writes for the site, including his blog.
Send your questions now and join Sobel Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET!
Jason Sobel (2:02 PM)
Ho-hum, just another Tuesday afternoon in the golf world. Anything special going on today?OK, no time for sarcasm. Let's get to the Tiger questions...
His announcement today is a completely blatant effort to overshadow Derek Lamely's Monday win in Puerto Rico. Obviously. What selfishness. [/sarcasm]
Jason Sobel (2:02 PM)
Sorry, couldn't resist. NOW let's get to the Tiger questions...
I am really glad Tiger is coming back. I think this will be one of the most anticipated sporting events in years. However, having said that does Tiger really have a chance against a great field and a difficult golf course to come back after 4 months with all of those distractions and pull this off?
Jason Sobel (2:07 PM)
Well, there's no doubt this is one of the most anticipated sporting events. I mean, can you imagine ANYONE not watching? Golf fans will be glued to the TV (or the Live Blog!), but even non-golf fans will want to see what he looks like, how he reacts to the crowds, whether any knuckleheads yell in his backswing -- that sort of thing. Here's a good rule of thumb in trying to decide how anticipated an event is: Will your mom watch? Then it's pretty big. Will your grandma watch? Even bigger. Will the whole family huddle around the TV together? Only for the biggest events, and this one qualifies.As to whether he has a chance, as I wrote in my column today, I don't think Woods would return if he didn't think he had a chance to win. He's not coming back so he can get a few swings in and try for a top-20 finish. He's coming back to win his fifth green jacket.Based on what we've seen so far this year, I'd still enlist him as the favorite, too. So far, no player has earned multiple PGA Tour victories this season and while a few -- Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas among them -- have played very well -- I find it difficult to place any of them above Woods on a list of potential Masters contenders.
Marty (New York City)
Do you think it is incredibly selfish and cowardly of Tiger to "come out" during the Masters, gaining maximum protection for himself (those Patrons get tossed for running let alone shouting), while creating a horrible distraction for his fellow competitors seeking perhaps gol'fs greatest Major?
Jason Sobel (2:12 PM)
I've heard this notion a handful of times already today and I just don't get it. He was going to return at some point anyway and wants to earn another major championship. Yes, he'll gain some built-in advantages in that Augusta National will limit both media credentials and the number of patrons' badges, but I'm not sure either one of those factors weighed heavily in his decision. As for creating a distraction, sure, it may be a bit of a distraction for his fellow playing partners, but is that reason for him not to play? Will smaller galleries, it will actually be less of a distraction at Augusta than anywhere else, so I don't see the problem. I just don't.
Why on earth did Tiger feel it neccessary to apologize to the Tavistock (an event no one had heard of 4 months ago)?
Jason Sobel (2:14 PM)
My best guess -- and it's only a guess -- is that he had preliminary conversations with officials from that event and would have teed it up there if he thought his game was fully prepared by then. This is an event he plays every year, it's being held right around the corner from his house, and so he likely just didn't want people to think he was big-timing his own club.
What are the player obligations to the media (daily)? Do they have to meet w/ the press after their rounds? Or, is this something that is set by the PGA to market their star players? If the latter, can you see Tiger sitting down w/ whomever makes these decisions for the PGA and saying, "listen, I'm meeting w/ the media after my rounds, only if my round is the topic. No 'off-golf' related questions" The PGA needs him.......and I can see them totally catering to his requests to control question content.
Jason Sobel (2:19 PM)
Well, if we're talking about the Masters -- and we should be, because Tiger has not yet discussed long-term plans after this event -- it has nothing to do with the PGA Tour, since the tourney is run by Augusta National. That said, I expect some sort of pre-tournament press conference during which he takes questions about the off-course stuff and then says, "That's it, I'm done after this," much like Alex Rodriguez did in regard to the steroid story a few years ago. Doesn't mean those questions won't be asked, but he can constantly say throughout the year, "I've already answered that and I won't talk about it anymore." I can't imagine he would want these questions to linger throughout the entire season and beyond.
Of course we know nothing about Tiger and the future of his marriage, but in terms of his public image, I think this is something of a risky move. We expect the sinner to undergo penance to restore his public image, and the biggest penance Tiger could do before us is to miss a major or two while he "works on his personal life." By not taking on this penance, is it possible Tiger actually diminishes the chance to restore his public image--or does a victory cleanse all his sins?
Jason Sobel (2:23 PM)
I think the whole public image thing has been overstated throughout this entire scandal. No, he didn't do anything to dissuade the notion that he cares what we think about him by holding that speech last month, but I feel like it's less of a factor in his decision-making process than some believe. As far as a victory "cleansing his sins," I'm not buying that, either. Only time will heal these wounds -- and for many fans (and non-fans), he'll never regain their trust or support, no matter how many tournaments he wins.
Jamie (Waterloo, IN)
If Tiger win's The Masters, where would that win rank in golf history? It would be so different than Nicklaus in '86 or even Tiger's win in the US Open over Rocco Mediate. What do you think?
Jason Sobel (2:26 PM)
I was just asked this question during a radio interview about an hour ago and it would definitely rank as one of the most interesting stories in major history. The different between this one and those is that in the others, most people were either rooting for the eventual champion (Nicklaus) or at least awed by his performance (Woods). In this instance, I can actually see people outwardly rooting for everyone else on the leaderboard to defeat Woods. If he wins, it'll almost be like the bad guy professional wrestler beating the fan favorite. By all means, it's still a huge story, but on such a different plane than any of those others.
Nick (Spokane, WA)
Has Tiger ever gone into a major after any sort of break without at least one warm-up tournament under his belt? Augusta is not a very forgiving course for someone trying to shake off the rust. What are the odds he misses the cut? And what do you think the public reaction would be if he did?
Jason Sobel (2:29 PM)
Sure, just two years ago, he took a two-month break between finishing second at the Masters and playing the U.S. Open -- and, of course, he won the latter of those tournaments. I just filed a column (should be posted shortly) on why Tiger's failure to play an event before this one doesn't necessarily negatively impact his chances. Unlike, say, Phil Mickelson, who always tries to prepare for majors by playing as much as possible, Woods attempts to find his swing and his putting stroke off the course, in the confines of the driving range and practice green. If he wins the Masters, he will be credited for blocking out all of the personal issues; if he loses, he'll be blamed for letting it become a distraction. I think that's reading too much into the situation. If he wins, it'll be because he putted well and if he loses, it'll be because he putted poorly. Simple as that.
How do you think Tiger is physically ready to compete? I can only assume he's had plenty of time to train (workout) but not that much time at the range/golf. Do you think he really has a shot? and if so does he roll in as the favorite?
Jason Sobel (2:32 PM)
Again, I'm going to refer to a column that I already wrote, which you can read here: http://sports.espn.go.com/golf/columns/story?columnist=sobel_jason&id=4985953. If he's returning to competitive golf, he's returning because he's ready to not only compete, but win. Tiger wants to come back and make a splash and I sincerely believe that he wouldn't have made this decision if he didn't think his game would be ready for the challenge three weeks from now.
With Tiger having commented directly on his on course behavior (slamming clubs, cursing, etc.) do you suspect we'll be able to notice a difference in his demeanor? And do you think it will affect his game with that being in the back of his mind?
Jason Sobel (2:36 PM)
Absolutely, I do. He can't come back as the same club-throwing, swearing guy that we've seen so often over the past few years. From what I've heard from people close to him, I believe that much of that was Tiger projecting the anger from his personal life into his professional career. Of course, simply changing his demeanor is easier said than done. I'll be very interested to see what happens the first time he blocks a tee shot 40 yards to the right. His initial, instinctive reaction in recent years was to react emotionally, so I'm not so sure that's something he can change so easily. You'd better believe he'll be trying, though.
Mac (San Francisco, CA)
Whom do you think the men of The Masters will pair with Tiger?
Jason Sobel (2:40 PM)
Great question. If this was a PGA Tour event, I think the "random computer pairing" would place him with a few thick-skinned, well-mannered players who wouldn't have a problem with the overflowing galleries. I just don't know what the Augusta officials will do, though. Since he isn't the reigning champ, there's no obligation to play with the U.S. Amateur winner. I'd be surprised, though, if he isn't with a few other veteran players. Last year was obviously a much different situation, but he had Stewart Cink and Jeev Milkha Singh the opening two rounds. That sounds about right for this one, too.
Rick (Charlotte, NC)
Do you see Tiger trying to be more "fan friendly" when he returns, like signing more autographs? A start could be playing in the Par 3 tournament, but usually he does not play in this.
Jason Sobel (2:43 PM)
Yes and no. I think he may make more of an effort to interact with the crowds, at least indirectly -- smiling, waving, responding to any appreciative comments -- but I don't see him changing his overall strategy. If anything, he may be more guarded than ever when it comes to dealing with fans -- and probably for good reason. As for the Par 3, there's already going to be so much scrutiny toward his return that I don't see him playing it, but it certainly would be fun -- and it would get his face out there for an afternoon, essentially taking some of the pressure off his opening round on Thursday.
MIKE (TAMPA, FL)
Who you taking...Tiger or The Field?
Jason Sobel (2:46 PM)
I knew this question was coming. As always, I reserve the right to hold my opinion until the week of the tournament. I want to see what the course conditions are like, the expected weather and which players are in form entering the event. All of these things are major factors in how we should predict not only the Masters, but every golf tournament of the year. If I gave you my Masters pick right now, it would only change by April 8.
Hey Jason. Over-under on live blog posts not about TW?? I'm thinking maybe 12.5?
Jason Sobel (2:47 PM)
Um, let's just say Tiger will be prominently included in the Live Blog during Masters week. But it will be a Masters analysis, not just one solely about Tiger Woods.
Don't you think the other golfers are actually somewhat happy to have him back? Tiger means higher viewership, better earnings money and more overall coverage.
Jason Sobel (2:50 PM)
As one non-elite golfer told me about a month ago when it appeared Tiger may not return at all this year: "Damn, I was getting used to getting paid a whole lot of money for playing mediocre golf." So to answer your question, yes, they understand how important he is to the game and they do want to come back. Even more than that, though, they want to stop answering questions for him. As Stewart Cink so aptly put it a few weeks ago, when it comes to this story, the other pro golfers are just like the rest of the public -- they don't know the whole story and just want him to come back and play golf again. With so many title sponsorships and a TV contract up at the end of this year, Woods' return will certainly help matters for the game.
MIKE (TAMPA, FL)
Masters ratings this year. Over/Under all time high? Super Bowl levels if he's in the hunt on Sunday?
Jason Sobel (2:53 PM)
I've got to think so. And with all the different platforms on which you can watch the tournaments -- from online coverage to 3D telecasts -- there's really no excuse for missing it. Numbers will be huge on Sunday. And for those who complain that Woods too often gets more than his fair share of coverage on the broadcasts, just wait. He'll get even more face time when he comes back.
big ben (nc)
if tiger is in contention on sunday at the masters, do you think elin will be there? i know u would just be guessing but give me a guess
Jason Sobel (2:54 PM)
Highly doubt it, but you never know. After all, she didn't even show for his speech last month, which was given in front of other family members, friends and sponsors at TPC-Sawgrass. If she's there, it will be somewhere behind closed doors. I can't imagine Elin walking around at a tournament outside the ropes anytime soon, if ever again.
Nick M. (Atlanta, GA)
How little rope do you see Masters officials giving fans in the event a few over-served patrons lob snarky comments to him? Zero?
Jason Sobel (2:57 PM)
Yeah, pretty much. Traditionally, Augusta National officials are more strict than at any other tournament, but they will be on full alert this time around. Yes, it's Tiger's return, but this is also the Masters and the last thing organizers want is for some yahoos to be making their voices heard when all is quiet as he prepares to hit a shot. I can't imagine anything less than a zero-tolerance policy.
How much do you expect Stevie to factor in to the relative calm (or lack thereof) of the tournament?
Jason Sobel (2:59 PM)
I know Stevie has come out and said he'll personal take care of any unruly fans upon Tiger's return, but with thousands of people in the gallery, that's just an impossibility. But you can bet that not only will there be Augusta National officials following his group, but plenty of other security personnel who will be monitoring everyone there. Maybe it's just me, but doesn't seem like doing something stupid is worth losing a Masters badge.
Jason Sobel (3:01 PM)
That's going to do it for me today. ESPNEWS interview in two minutes, if you're interested and plenty of content from myself and everyone else involved in our golf team here on ESPN.com. Thanks for all the comments. Until next time, hit 'em straight ...