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Tour Confidential: What if Tiger and Phil can't play the Masters?

Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods
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Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods at the 2009 Masters at Augusta National.

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the Masters and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are both sidelined with injuries. If neither Tiger nor Mickelson answers the bell to play in the Masters, how much does that influence your interest in the event?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): A little bit -- nobody plays Augusta National better, and the event means so much to them. But it's still the Masters. The show must go on.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Golf fans won't care, because the event is bigger than its participants. Sports fans with a more casual, star-driven interest might wane. And the CBS guys will probably be wailing and rending garments on Washington Road.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): It's the Masters. Spring has sprung. It's tradition. I'm rapt no matter who's in the field or on the leaderboard. But yes, the aura needle moves further and further to the right when Tiger and Phil are entered and in the hunt, nowhere more so than at Augusta. Gotta admit, their absence will diminish the event ever so slightly.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not at all. I would hope for them to both be there, and I expect them both to be there, but if they are not there, it has no influence at all on my interest in the event.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): It won't affect me much, but hardcore fans will tune in regardless. It's the more casual viewers who would turn their attention elsewhere. If Tiger and Phil miss the Masters, this could be the biggest season ever for "Dancing With The Stars." I will now smack myself in the head with a bunker rake.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): What? Tiger's injured? I hadn't heard. Yes. It puts a damper on my interest, but I'll still happily watch every minute. (What's more, I guarantee both Tiger and Phil will be there.)

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): It's the Masters. If you can't get interested in that no matter who's playing, go back to reading Bowling Digest.

2. The R&A Golf Club urged its members to accept women members this week following the controversy of holding the Open Championship at all-male Muirfield last summer. Do you have a problem with majors being held at clubs that don’t allow women?

SENS: Yes. For a game that loves to trumpet its grand traditions, golf has been on the wrong side of history far too often. That's bad PR when you're trying to grow participation. If clubs want to keep out women, that's their right. But there are lots of other nice spots to hold an Open.

VAN SICKLE: The UK is 20 years behind us in a few areas, and this is one of them. This is a chance to play catch-up. I think a more interesting question is, will the R&A members vote to accept women? Can you imagine if they vote ‘no’? It'll be a crapstorm.

SHIPNUCK: Definitely. The message it sends to fans and would-be golfers is so retrograde. There's an easy solution: if they wanna stay all-male, all they gotta do is give up the Open.

PASSOV: I'm a big Freedom of Association guy, so I'll defend those clubs all day long. However, in this day and age, I just don't understand why any club would hold onto those policies, even in the UK. Don't punish those clubs, but definitely point fingers into their chests.

LYNCH: This is about principal, not principle. The R&A is moving only at the point of HSBC's bayonet, the bank being a major sponsor of The Open Championship and a vocal critic of gender discrimination in golf. A club has the right to be single sex if it wishes, but the majors are run by organizations that occupy a leadership role (formal or otherwise) in the game. With that position comes an obligation to avoid staging golf's biggest events at exclusionary clubs.

BAMBERGER: Regardless of what I think, it's pretty obvious that the all-male club is likely to die pretty soon here, possibly in the next 100 years. Augusta National will likely have its first openly gay member before that.

RITTER: I understand that private clubs have the right to set their own rules, but if a course is hosting a major, it has a greater role within the game and its policies should reflect that. Majors belong at golf's best venues -- those remaining men-only clubs now need to get with the times. It was always a comical disconnect when Augusta National would spout on about its commitment to growing the game while simultaneously cutting out half the population from its member roles. I'm glad the R&A is taking this vote, and its next step should be to pressure Muirfield and similar clubs to change their policies. Augusta admitted two women, survived the ensuing barrage of overwhelmingly positive publicity, and continued on just fine. The same thing would happen for these other clubs, and it's the right message to send to golfers around the world.

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