Tiger Woods was back on the course at Augusta National early Wednesday morning for one of the most highly anticipated practice rounds in recent memory.
The PGA icon already indicated his plans to play Thursday in the first round of this year’s Masters Tournament, but he did caution that his status for golf’s first major of the year was contingent on his performance Wednesday.
No one would have been surprised if Woods never played golf again after a car crash in Los Angeles that damaged his right leg so badly he said doctors raised the prospect of amputation. Out of the public eye for nine months, Woods sent hopes soaring last November with a video of him swinging the club with a simple message, ‘Making progress.’
And here he is at Augusta National, making a Monday practice round feel like Sunday at a major because of the gallery, walking the steep slopes, swinging well and making it clear he has every intention of playing in the Masters.
Does he think he can win?
Woods offered the shortest answer of his press conference: ‘I do.’
Tiger Woods walks on the 15th fairway during a practice round for the Masters on Wednesday in Augusta, Georgia
Woods wasn’t enjoying a quiet round with his caddie, but was instead followed by thousands of adoring fans
Woods watches his approach shot on the 12th hole at Augusta National ahead of Thursday’s opening round at the Masters
Tiger Woods pictured on the thirteenth hole during the final practice round for the 2022 Masters Tournament
Woods said Tuesday he is planning to play and thinks he can win. Never mind that it will be 508 days from the last time he played a tournament where he had to walk, or that he returns to this Masters with screws and rods still holding the bones in place in his right leg
Tiger Woods speaks with his caddie Joe LaCava on the 12th hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament
He said Tuesday he is planning to play and thinks he can win. Never mind that it will be 508 days from the last time he played a tournament where he had to walk, or that he returns to this Masters with screws and rods still holding the bones in place in his right leg.
Woods also is 46. He would be the oldest Masters champion by three weeks over Jack Nicklaus.
The biggest question is how he holds up over 18 holes for four straight days. Woods walked 18 holes last week — his first big test — during a scouting trip with 13-year-old son Charlie (including a stop at the Par 3 course).
He played the back nine on Sunday, the front nine on Monday.
Woods plans nine more for Wednesday and then it’s ‘game time.’ He is to tee off at 10:34 a.m. Thursday with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann.
TIGER & THE MASTERS
By returning from his year-long post-crash hiatus, Tiger Woods is now in position to tie PGA legend Jack Nicklaus’s record by winning his sixth Masters Tournament this year.
The 46-year-old Woods’s career will forever be linked to the annual event in Augusta, Georgia. Not only was the Masters his first major victory in 1997, but the tournament was actually his first Tour Major in 1995, when he tied for 41st as the only amateur to make the cut.
Two years later, he’d become the youngest champion in Masters history by beating runner-up Tom Kite by a whopping 12 strokes.
Woods won consecutive Masters Tournaments in 2001 and 2002, before winning the 2005 Masters in a playoff against American Chris DiMarco.
But perhaps his most memorable win came in 2019, when he miraculously recovered from back surgery to beat a trio of American rivals: Dustin Jonson, Brooks Koepka, and Xander Schauffele.
‘I can hit it just fine. I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint,’ Woods said. ‘Walking is the hard part. This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the conditions that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult.
‘Seventy-two holes is a long road and it’s going to be a tough challenge,’ he said. ‘And a challenge that I’m up for.’
That might be the biggest reason Woods is even at Augusta National for more than the sushi and miso-glazed cod and Wagyu beef that defending champion Hideki Matsuyama put on the menu for the champions-only dinner Tuesday night.
If he never plays — if he never wins — Woods said he is satisfied with what he has achieved.
‘I think 82 is a pretty good number,’ Woods said. ‘And 15 is not too bad, either.’
His 15 majors are second only to Jack Nicklaus and his 18, the gold standard in golf. He is tied with Sam Snead for the PGA Tour career record with 82 wins.
So why keep coming back? What else is there to prove?
‘I love competing,’ Woods said. ‘And I feel like if I can still compete at the highest level, I’m going to. And if I feel like I can still win, I’m going to play.’
‘I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it. So that’s the attitude I’ve had,’ he said. ‘There will be a day when it won’t happen, and I’ll know when that is.’
Shortly after he spoke, the starting times were released. Woods is helped by being part of the early-late rotation, meaning he will have some 22 hours between rounds.
Otherwise, Tuesday was mostly a wash. Woods wasn’t planning on anything more than working on the range, anyway, and even that worked in his favor. Heavy storms moved over Augusta about the time he finished his work, and the course was closed the rest of the day.
As long as Woods has been part of Masters lore — Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer once predicted he would win more green jackets than both of them combined (10) — the reality is rust from no serious competition and a body that has endured at least 10 surgeries to both legs and his back.
Tiger Woods putts on the 10th green during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament
Tiger Woods of the US hits from the fairway on the fourteenth hole during Wednesday’s practice round
But he’s planning to play, and that feels like enough for now.
‘I think that the fact that I was able to get myself here to this point is a success,’ Woods said. ‘And now that I am playing, now everything is focused on, ‘How do I get myself into the position where I’m on that back nine on Sunday with a chance?’ Just like I did a few years ago.’
That was 2019, his fifth Masters title that followed four surgeries the previous five years on his lower back.
‘How many comebacks has he had?’ Jordan Spieth asked in wonderment.
There was the return from reconstructive knee surgery after his 2008 U.S. Open victory. He won seven times worldwide the following year. There was a return to No. 1 following the implosion in his personal life, and before the back surgeries.
Nothing compares with this one, mainly because of the walking involved on a leg so badly damaged that Woods spent three months in a hospital bed before advancing to a wheel chair, crutches, a compression sleeve and still the occasional limp.
‘It’s amazing if you think about where he was at a year ago to now,’ Spieth said. ‘I don’t know how many people — if anybody — could be out here. And this is not an easy walk. So to be out here and not to throw his age in the mix, but I don’t think that helps much for that recovery.
‘But is anybody surprised?’