Will this become the Woods-less year?

With plenty of talent coming up through the ranks, but not one person stands out like Tiger

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 10:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 10:14pm

Rory McIlroy cannot remember a time when men's golf has so clearly lacked a dominant figure, or figures, heading into the Masters.

Welcome to the Tiger Woods-less 2014, a year full of those hoping to contend on the PGA Tour rather than one player who expects to win each and every week.

McIlroy, speaking following his pro-am at the Houston Open, said he had not talked with the world's highest-profile golfer since news broke of the back surgery that would keep Woods out of next week's visit to Augusta National.

What Tiger has done for the game of golf is unbelievable. To not have him there at the Masters is not the greatest
Steve Bowditch

McIlroy also said golf overall, not just next week's Masters, was seemingly as wide open as it had been during his time as a pro.

"It's almost like golf is waiting for someone to stamp their authority on the game and be that dominant player," said McIlroy, the former No 1.

Australia's Steven Bowditch earned his first PGA Tour win at last week's Texas Open in San Antonio, becoming the tour's 17th different winner in its last 20 events.

The parity is a far cry from Woods' peak when he won nine events in 2000 and eight in both 1999 and 2006. And Woods isn't alone in his dominance after the turn of the century, with Vijay Singh also winning nine times in 2004.

McIlroy mentioned both Woods and Singh while also saying golf needs a few players to "sort of put their hands up and try to be … the dominant players in this game because that's what people like to see."

Jimmy Walker leads the tour this season with three wins. The Texan, in another sign of the changing of the guard, went 187 starts on the PGA Tour without winning before capping a stretch of three wins in eight tournaments at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.

Even first-time winner Bowditch, while occupied with this week's Houston Open and preparing for next week's trip to Augusta National, had a sense of what Woods' absence will mean to the game.

"Tiger, in any atmosphere, creates an unbelievable atmosphere," Bowditch said.

"What Tiger has done for the game of golf is unbelievable. To not have him there at the Masters is not the greatest."

Woods has had his share of challengers over the years, including McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, among others.

Mickelson, however, has battled injuries of his own lately - including a muscle pull that forced his withdrawal from last week's Texas Open.

McIlroy also left little doubt about who he hopes can claim the mantle Woods has left vacant - for now.

"I hope it's me," he said, with a wry smile.