Gary Van Sickle’s Mailbag: Masters fever, Tiger versus Jack, Hank Haney

Van Sickle believes Tiger Woods should be considered the favorite to win the 2012 Masters.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

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It's official, we've got a pandemic of Masters fever spreading faster than a thing that spreads really fast. (From Great Bad Analogies, Volume 2.) So in honor of next week's Masters Tournament, I've donned my green sweatshirt to answer your sometimes kooky questions for the Van Cynical Mailbag. We have liftoff:

Why do commentators refuse to admit the obvious, that Tiger Woods is the greatest of all time? He plays a different game than anyone, ever. Why the refusal to admit it?
— Joe G., Thomasville, Ga.

I don't know why someone wouldn't admit that Tiger is the greatest ever. Gee, unless is had to do with him not surpassing Jack's record for 18 major championships. Hello, Tiger is still four behind. Let's check the scoreboard. Masters: Jack 6, Tiger 4. U.S. Open: Jack 4, Tiger 3. PGA: Jack 5, Tiger 4. British Open: Jack 3, Tiger 3. Jack's record is better. Tiger is the best player of his generation, no doubt about it, and if you've read anything about golf in the last four years (and I'm pretty sure you haven't), some gushing hyperbolists have, in fact, proclaimed Tiger the best ever. But he hasn't beaten Jack's record. Even if you include the U.S. Amateur titles, Jack still leads Tiger, 20-17.

Tiger plays a different game than anyone, ever? Not exactly, since the way he brought Augusta to its knees in '97 was exactly the same thing Jack did to Augusta in 1965 when he set the scoring record at 17 under par and won by a whopping nine. Here's a little more food for thought. In his era, Nicklaus ran into a bushel of Hall of Famers. He immediately faced off with Arnold Palmer in his prime. Plus Gary Player, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Gene Littler, Tom Watson, Julius Boros and Tony Lema. Phil Mickelson and maybe Ernie Els are the only players in Tiger's era that I'd put in the same sentence with the aforementioned. Jack didn't face the depth of competition that Tiger has but at the top, he faced better competition. You must not be watching the same TV I watch, Joe. The TV commentators fall all over themselves to worship Tiger.

Hello Mr. Van Sickle,
Don't you think that Joe LaCava looks a lot smarter now than last September?
— Meo, Quebec City

I thought Joey looked pretty smart last September when he signed on to caddie for the richest golfer in history. If you can handle the heat and the spotlight, caddying for Tiger is a gig that pays well, obviously.

APB for Mike Weir! With the Masters on deck, any word as to what was the cause for the dramatic drop off in his game? In 2011, two made cuts. In 2012, Golden Sombrero, oh-for-four. What in the name of Trevor Immelman is going on here?
— Darren Evans

Your favorite Canadian Masters champion had a bad right elbow. He tried to play through the pain unsuccessfully in 2010, eventually needed surgery last year and is still having trouble getting back to his old swing because of the elbow. Also, he's not getting any younger. Weir turns 42 in May.

Gary, Now that "The Big Miss" is out, I am the only one curious to know why TW was smart enough to have Elin sign a confidentiality agreement for the divorce but not have his "paid" employees Hank, Butch and Stevie sign one? Could he possibly be that arrogant to think they might not pen some memoirs some day? Would love to see Butch have a chapter on Tiger's supposed amateur career as Earl was being paid by IMG.
— Tim Delaney

Come on, Tim, nobody thinks of everything. Elin probably got the confidentiality agreement along with the prenup. It was a sign-one, get-one-free deal. Also, my lawyering pals say it's pretty difficult to create an ironclad, permanent non-disclosure deal. And as you may have noted from Tiger's entire scandal, his handlers have dropped the ball many other times, too.

Bonjour Gary, I was listening to Jack Nicklaus during the Honda and I'm always amazed by his great class. What is the best biography on him on the market, and it is as interesting as Andre Agassi Open?
— Eric P., Val-d'Or, Québec, Canada

I'll forgive the tennis reference, Eric, since you speak the beautiful language of the gods and you also have figured out how to get that little apostrophe above the 'e' in Quebec. I bow to your genius. I haven't gone near Agassi's book, or even a tennis telecast since the days of Evert-Navratilova but for Jack, I'd go with Golden Twilight by Dave Shedloski, which follows Jack around the senior tour for a year and paints a pretty insightful picture of the real Jack. No current writer knows Jack better than Shed.

Does Tiger's Bay Hill win count, considering that Rory/Luke were not in the field? Similar to talk back in the day, when players won without TW in the field.
— Sanjay Iyer, via Facebook

Two Van Cynical merit badges for you, Sanjay. Clever point. Bay Hill had a representative field of 120 players, so we'll count it. I think it's less about who's in the field than how many. Tiger's Target World Championship win in a field of 18 players was unofficial and less than a decent golf outing. I'd question the old Mercedes Championships, the winners-only event in Hawaii with only 30 to 35 players teeing it up. Is that really a tournament that should get you in the Masters? And the World Golf Championships with no cuts and half-fields of only 70 or so players is a question mark. Sure, the WGC events have the top-ranked players but a field of 144 or 156 is tougher to beat due to the sheer numbers. Which makes the Masters, with fewer than 100 contestants, including some non-competitive geezers, the easiest major to win by far.

How's is Tiger looking this year heading into the Masters compared to last year? And who do you think will be the players to watch at the Masters other then Tiger.
— Alvin Nunez via Facebook

It's a real shame the Internet broke and nobody televised that little tournament at Bay Hill. I don't know how to break this to you, Big Al, but Tiger decimated the field last week at Bay Hill. Graeme McDowell was the only player within a touchdown of Tiger, whose swing looked the best it's looked in seven years. Tiger was in full shot-making command. He's the favorite at the Masters now. THE favorite. He'll be blocking out the sun, he's so big. You won't be able to watch anyone else. If you had to, though, you'd want to check out Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Kyle Stanley.

Have a question for Gary Van Sickle's mailbag? E-mail [email protected] or ask it on Facebook.