Masters Confidential: What's the weekend's best storyline?

Masters Confidential: What’s the weekend’s best storyline?

Can Tiger Woods quiet his critics with a win this weekend?
Robert Beck/SI

Every morning this week, writers and editors from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine will address one pressing question about the Masters in a daily version of PGA Tour Confidential, our weekly roundtable discussion.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Of all the potential winners, who’s the best story on the leaderboard?

Tiger in his first tournament since the scandal of the century; Phil, playing through the famalial upheaval brought on by his wife’s struggle with chemo-therapy; Tom Watson going for one more win at 60; Lee Westwood once a top player who fell to near 300 in the world; or Ernie Els, who’s suffered so much heartbreak at Augusta and is enjoying a resurgence after dealing with his son’s autism.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Has there ever been an athlete who performed his best whilst pissed at the world like Tiger Woods does? Sonny Liston, maybe. This is a revenge performance for the papparrazi, Parnevik, and maybe even Billy Payne. I love the Watson and Phil sagas, but they fall short of Tiger taking his turn as Clint Eastwood, asking his fellow competitors if they feel lucky.

Alan Bastable, senior editor, Golf Magazine: There’s a quantifiable answer to this question: look at our homepage, read our blog, pick up any newspaper in America, turn on CNN, or MSNBC, or Geraldo flippin’ Rivera. Tiger is everywhere you turn, and for good reason. In our scandal-crazed land, he’s the best story by an Augusta mile, and the plot keeps getting better. Sex, deceit and 6-under at the Masters? Jackie Collins couldn’t write this stuff.

Joe Posnanski, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think we all know Tiger is the biggest story in golf, and he’s the biggest story in sports, and he’s the biggest story in tabloid world, and he’s probably the biggest news story too when it comes to people’s interest. But I’ve got to speak up for my guy. If Tom Watson at age 60 would happen to beat Tiger and the rest and win the Masters, that is the biggest story in the history of professional golf.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Put me in the Tiger camp, but how can Watson not be the second best story? Winning the Open Championship at 59 would have been the greatest tournament win in history; how can winning the Masters at 60 not be even bigger?

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It’s Tiger hands down. Not a redemption story. It’s too early for that. But if he wins it really adds to his legend as the greatest to ever play the game. When Mike Weir won the year of the Martha Burk and Hootie showdown, he wasn’t a big enough winner to overshadow that cultural war. Only a Tiger win this Sunday could make us forget for awhile, at least, all the women and sordid details of his personal life.

This will be the Masters that averted disaster by willing a victory for the G.O.A.T. in his hour of greatest public shame. That’s the grace from the golf Gods that I hope his wife grants him.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: With all due respect to Ernie, I’ll take Phil. Nobody should have to endure what he has had to go through. Plus, give him credit for the way he handled the Tiger question during his pre-tournament press conference. And you just know it would be doubly sweet for him to win with Tiger in the hunt.

Tiger doesn’t even make my top three. He is not coming back from a serious injury. He has not been dealing with a family illness. Save for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, when he was coping with the death of his father, he has always played well coming off of extended layoffs. This one just happens to be a little longer.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I agree with Godich that among the plausible scenarios a Phil win would be the best story. A Tiger win would be too hard for people to embrace just now. Westwood would be the best story in Europe. He’s come so close, albeit not at Augusta.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Woods was always going to be the biggest story at this Masters, and nothing will change that. But if Woods wins, he’s another celebrity making a successful return from a scandal. If Watson wins at age 60, it’s a story for the ages.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger is the biggest story, but I’d rather write Watson or Phil or Freddy or Ernie, more or less in that order.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: What kind of story do you want? A fantasy? Watson. A romance? Phil. A psycho-drama? Tiger. As the kids say, it’s all good.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger, Tiger and Tiger. Phil is a very distant second. And everyone else would be nice, but they’d not register much outside of golf. It’s a one-man show with the world following one man.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger is the biggest story, without a doubt. But Mickelson, Couples and Watson are better stories.