Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley hopes Tiger Woods returns to action in time for the Masters in order to divert some of the spotlight from Rory McIlroy.
Victory at Augusta would make world number one McIlroy just the sixth player to complete the career grand slam of all four major titles after Woods, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
Woods has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and not claimed a green jacket since 2005, but McGinley knows the attention surrounding the 14-time major winner’s current struggles would make life easier for McIlroy next month.
“Look what happened at the US PGA last year,” said McGinley, who will be at the Masters in Augusta commentating for Sky Sports, the only place to watch all four days live.
“All the talk was ‘is Tiger going to play, is he not going to play?’. At the time Rory was favourite, but all the expectation, all the talk, all you guys (the media) were focused on was Tiger.
“Rory didn’t sneak in the back door, but he was able to go about his business without the attention on him. I do hope Tiger comes back, we all hope Tiger comes back. I don’t know if he will or not, we’ll have to wait and see.”
In two starts this year, Woods missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open after a career-worst 82 and lasted just 11 holes at the Farmers Insurance Open before withdrawing due to more injury problems.
The 39-year-old said he was taking time out from the sport in order to work on his game - he duffed an alarming number of chips in Phoenix - and that absence extended to include this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a venue where he has won eight times.
“Of course I’ve been shocked,” McGinley added of Woods’ short-game woes.
““When you see a guy who was as great with the chipping as Tiger was, is he going to come back from it?
“We really don’t know.”
“All you can say about Tiger is he’s nearly 40 years of age. The intensity Tiger has given to the game, that intensity does have an effect on you. Is there a little bit of burnout going on? There’s a reason why guys don’t play their best golf in their 40s and late 30s.
“My hunch would be there’s something bigger going on. There’s no doubt Tiger has peaked in terms of when guys normally play their best golf. That doesn’t mean he’s finished, but certainly he is in the back nine of his career.
“It’s not just the wear and tear on your mind and body, having performed at a very high intense level with scrutiny like Tiger’s had for 20 years. It’s mitigating circumstances - he’s got two kids that are growing up and he’s spending more time with them, he’s obviously gone through a divorce and that causes issues too, and he’s in a new relationship.
“He’s now got some business interests that are going through and designing golf courses that he never did before. So Tiger’s focus and his evolution as a human being have moved on, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why all of a sudden his focus is not here any more.”