Teeing Off: Is this the most important major ever for Tiger Woods?

Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Shane Bacon and national columnist Jay Busbee take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by hitting us on Twitter at@shanebacon and @jaybusbee. Today we discuss if this is the biggest major ever for Tiger Woods.

Bacon: The 2013 Masters is upon us, and for the first time in many moons Tiger Woods is the obvious, clear-cut, transparent favorite to snag his fifth green jacket. He's won three times already this season, six times over the last year and looks like his golf game is finally where he's hoped it would be for the first time since 2008. But the question isn't will he win, it's if this Masters is the most important major that he's ever played in?

Busbee: I'm going to go with third-most-important, at best, after Augusta in 1997 and 2010. That wasn't Tiger's first major -- he'd played in six others before that, starting with the 1995 Masters -- but all of those were as an amateur. In 1997, he was a pro, and a ridiculously heralded-but-unproven pro at that. "Hello, world," the Nike contract, the burden of being a young man of color in a lily-white sport ... it's impossible to overestimate the pressure on Tiger at that tournament. And 2010 was his first public appearance on a course since, you know ... the hydrant. In both cases, he was stepping out onto a stage in front of the world's skeptical eyes. This time around, I'm feeling the stage will be a lot more hospitable. And you?

Bacon: I think it's definitely this week and the only one that would come close was that appearance in '10. In '97 he was a fresh face that was coming to a major championship with expectations, sure, but we have expectations for a ton of golfers. After he won that week by a zillion I think our idea of what could become of him changed, but I'm not sure he had that much pressure that early in his career. This week he has all the weight in the world on him, and if he doesn't end up winning it would be another few months of talking about how Woods is great at regular tour events but can't win majors anymore. Isn't that as much pressure as him coming out of the gate in '10 just to face the music?

Busbee: You could make a case for that, absolutely. This is the major that could determine how Tiger Woods 2.0 (maybe 2.5) goes for the next few years. A win this weekend, and he once again owns golf. A loss, and it's golf-media Groundhog Day--eight more weeks of the same questions. Is there any way for him to escape this week gracefully without a win?

Bacon: That's the crazy thing about Tiger this week at the Masters - it really is a lose-lose for the guy. Win and we all say, "See, he SHOULD have won this thing" and if he doesn't we will all be pointing fingers at him saying he can't win the big one anymore. I know that's a tough place to be, and Tiger has done it to himself by being so incredibly successful earlier in his career, but isn't that the case these days? If he wins don't we all just simply say, "Yep, as it should be" instead of actually being impressed he knocked out another PGA Tour victory or major?

Busbee: Ah, the burdens of being the greatest player in history (or, at worst, 1A). It's to Tiger's credit that he's starting to get judged against his own past record now rather than against the field. And until someone steps up and challenges him head-to-head, in a major, and yanks the green jacket out of his hands in a playoff, that's how it's going to be. So what's your take? I'll say Tiger has a very good chance to win, and a lock to finish within three strokes of the lead. You?

Bacon: I think the way Tiger is rolling the rock right now makes him the obvious pick, but I'm not sure he's the guy I'm going to go with when Wednesday rolls around. I like a few other guys to contend, and possibly win, but what if Tiger gets off to a rough start like usual? Or hits it all over the map like he has in the past and did at Bay Hill? I'll say this, I'd be more surprised if Tiger wins than if he doesn't, simply because I think there are 30 other names that definitely can win this green jacket that aren't named Tiger.

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