Title: Tiger's absence reminds us of his Masters magnificence long ago
Description: AUGUSTA, GA. — Golf is a sport besotted by its past, but no tournament plays on nostalgia quite like the Masters. From allowing past champions into the field well beyond their competitive use-by date to having honorary starters begin the tournament, it's obvious that here, the past is alive. It surrounds you, overcomes you; from the moment you enter this cathedral cut into the Georgia pines -- no running, no yelling -- the stirring deeds of the past are retold as if they'd just happened. Literally, in some cases. I once had breakfast on the balcony of the iconic clubhouse -- built by a plantation owner in 1854 -- and was joined by the late Gene Sarazen. Why read about his albatross at the 1935 Masters -- the one that put the tournament on the map -- when you can ask the man himself? Every time I open the clubhouse door I half-expect Bobby Jones to greet me. It's fitting, then, that they celebrate the past so thoroughly, so reverentially at Augusta National because this week it's time to be nostalgic about Tiger Woods. Woods, of course, won't be playing in this rite of spring for the first time since 1994 as he recovers from back surgery; the latest physical ailment to impede his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors. His absence amounts to a line drawn in the pine straw. Perhaps it should've happened earlier given he won the last of his four green jackets way back in 2005, but it's time to acknowledge that he will never again be what he was but, too, that what he was, was a magnificence the likes of which we will never see again. Woods changed not just the Masters, but golf, in 1997 when he broke not just scoring records but social barriers. His second victory here was just as famous. In 2001, he became the first man in modern times -- and, I'd be willing to bet, the last -- to hold all of the sport's four major trophies at the same time. The Tiger Slam they called it . . . of course they did.