AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods hasn’t played in a competitive golf tournament in 17 months. He has, as he said Tuesday, “hardware” in his right leg, stabilizing rods and screws that helped him recover from a devastating single-car crash just 14 months ago. He was in a hospital bed for three months. His mobility is limited. He is 46.
Does he think he could win the Masters this week?
“I do,” Woods said.
Woods confirmed Tuesday morning the one bit of news that could single-handedly transform the Masters from the year’s first golf major into a mainstream sporting event: After recovering from his serious injuries sustained in the California car crash in February 2021, he intends to try to compete in the Masters, which begins Thursday and in which he will be in pursuit of what would be a record-tying sixth green jacket.
“As of right now, I feel like I am going to play,” Woods said during a 25-minute news conference here. “I’m going to play nine more holes tomorrow. My recovery has been good; I’ve been very excited about how I’ve recovered every day.”
Shortly thereafter, Masters officials released the tee times for the first two rounds. Woods will tee off at 10:34 a.m. Thursday, joined by South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Chile’s Joaquín Niemann. That threesome will begin play at 1:41 p.m. Friday in the second round.
Woods’s last tournament was the pandemic-delayed 2020 Masters, held in November, when he tied for 38th. A little more than three months later, he suffered comminuted open fractures to the tibia and fibula in his right leg after his car careened off a road in Southern California, with both bones breaking into at least three pieces and piercing the skin. Woods also suffered foot and ankle injuries and has said that doctors at one point considered amputation.
He said Tuesday that he still has pain in his leg “each and every day.” His challenges are not only managing that pain but resting and recovering enough from each round so that he can do it again the following day. When he first showed up at Augusta as a teenager, he was an athletic, flexible force. Now, he must manage his body more like a geriatric.
“It gets agonizing … because of simple things that I would normally just go do that would take now a couple hours here and a couple hours there to prep and then wind down,” Woods said. “So activity time to do what I want to do, it adds more time on both sides of it — pre- and post-.”
Which was part of the calculation as to whether he could compete.
“The fact that I was able to get myself here at this point is a success,” Woods said. “Now that I’m here, the focus is getting to Sunday on the back nine with a chance.”
For any of the other 90 players in the field, such a notion under such circumstances would be laughable. But over the course of a career that now spans a quarter-century — his groundbreaking first Masters triumph came 25 years ago, when he was just 21 — Woods has shown a propensity for both the absurdly unexpected and the impossibly dramatic. He won the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg, and his fifth Masters victory came in 2019, after he had undergone five back surgeries.
Yet he is probably more familiar with Augusta National than his own backyard. The challenge, he said, won’t be putting the clubface squarely on the ball. It will be getting his body around Augusta’s undulating, uneven terrain for four-and-a-half hours four straight days.
“I can hit it just fine,” Woods said. “I don’t have any qualms of what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. Walking’s the hard part. … Seventy-two holes is a long road. It’s going to be a tough challenge and a challenge I’m up for.”
When Woods began introducing unprecedented length off the tee more than two decades ago, Augusta responded by lengthening the course. Those changes continue today — the tee at the par-4 11th is farther back this year — and contribute to the physical demands of playing the Masters, even for younger players.
“It’s a very difficult course to walk,” said 28-year-old Justin Thomas, a frequent playing partner of Woods’s. “It’s the toughest of the year. It’s very, very long, very hilly, a lot of long walks back to tees. … You add that along with some of the craziest undulation and terrain of any course we’ll play all year, it produces some pretty tired, sore legs at the end of the week.”
The 508 days between tournaments will be the longest layoff of Woods’s career, topping the 466-day hiatus he took between August 2015 and December 2016 to deal with what became chronic back problems. Woods then didn’t compete in earnest again until the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, when he recorded eight top-10 finishes and a memorable win at the season-ending Tour Championship. He followed that up with that fifth Masters victory in April 2019, which also stands as his most recent win.
Woods announced Sunday that he was traveling to Augusta National to practice for a second time in five days and that his Masters participation would be “a game-time decision.” On Monday, he played a practice round with Thomas and fellow Masters champion Fred Couples, walking the course with what was described as a slight limp (Woods will not be allowed to use a cart during the tournament). On Tuesday, he did not walk the course, limiting his work to the practice area before storms shut down practice rounds. He said he intended to play nine more holes on Wednesday.
“I don’t have to worry about the ball-striking or the game of golf,” Woods said. “I just have to worry about the hills out here. That’s the challenge.”
Woods had previously said that his career as a full-time professional golfer is over because he couldn’t “foresee this leg being ever what it used to be.” However, he added that he could see himself playing in occasional PGA Tour events. In December, he played in an unofficial father-son tournament with Charlie, using a cart to get around the Florida course and finishing second behind John Daly and his son.
But since he turned pro in 1996, he has been clear about his own standard for himself: If he enters a tournament, he does so expecting to win. That seemed brash when he was 20. Yet he has never wavered from it — and isn’t now.
“If I feel like I can’t,” Woods said, “then you won’t see me out here.”
He is here, now, for the 24th time as a player. His five green jackets trail only Jack Nicklaus’s six. He is the only player who could show up under these circumstances, say the following and not be laughed out of the room.
“I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it,” Woods said. “So that’s the attitude I’ve had. There will be a day when it won’t happen, and I’ll know when that is.”
Woods made clear Tuesday: It’s not this week.
Bonesteel reported from Washington.
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