Tiger still burning bright at The Masters
Out of the Woods
Published: Apr 08, 2022 09:42 PM
Supporters applaud as Tiger Woods begins his practice round in Augusta, Georgia, on April 4, 2022. Photo: VCG

Supporters applaud as Tiger Woods begins his practice round in Augusta, Georgia, on April 4, 2022. Photo: VCG

The build-up to The Masters was dominated by one man, as it so often has been. This year marks 25 years since Tiger Woods first won the tournament as a 21-year-old, ushering in a new era for the sport as he put on that famous green jacket for the first time.

This week, the 46-year-old's participation was the biggest point of interest, proving that little has changed when it comes to Woods' ability to dominate the headlines. The golfing superstar confirmed, after days of speculation, that it was his intention to play at the Augusta National course.

That his return to The Masters comes just 14 months after the car crash that left him hospitalized and saw doctors saw that the collision could have cost the American one of his legs is all the more remarkable.

Woods has not played a professional tournament since. In fact the last time that he played as a pro was on this very Augusta National course - back when he turned out at the rescheduled 2020 Masters as the reigning champion.

That 2019 win was meant to be the biggest comeback of Woods' storied career but there is a strong case that turning out at this 2022 tournament will eclipse that, no matter where he ends up on the final leaderboard. Woods spent several months in hospital recovering from the multiple fractures to his leg and the other injuries sustained in that crash. Back in February, he ruled out the possibility of playing The Masters.

Woods had been spotted playing several rounds at the Augusta National as Masters week was set to begin. His participation was the biggest story ahead of the tournament and Woods did not disappoint when he spoke to the press on Tuesday morning (US time) to confirm his intentions.

"As of right now, I'm going to play," he told the world's media assembled in the Augusta press room.

"I'm going to play nine more holes tomorrow. My recovery has been good. I've been very excited about how I've recovered each and every day."

Tiger Woods Photo: VCG

Tiger Woods Photo: VCG

Woods made it clear that his recovery to this point has been the biggest challenge he has faced in his career.

"That's been the challenge," Woods said of the process and playing with his son to ease his way in. "That's why I came up here and tested out for 27 holes - we played the par-three course, Charlie couldn't help himself.

"But it's the recovery, how am I going to get all the swelling out and recover for the next day? My team has been fantastic and worked very hard, so I've got another day of nine more holes and then comes game-time."

What happens come game time is anyone's guess but Woods is not in Augusta to take part but thinks he can win.

"I do," Woods said when asked. "I can hit it just fine. I don't have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint.

"Walking's the hard part. This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the condition my leg is in it gets a little more difficult.

"72 holes is a long road and it's going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I'm up for."

All signs had pointed to Woods taking part in the tournament, where he is hoping to become a six-time champion.

"I'm sure he's going to tee it up on Thursday," said the 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, who played with Woods and Justin Thomas on Monday.

"He'll never let you know if he's in pain. He was bombing it. He didn't miss many shots, drove it great. He's just unreal.

"Now it's just the walking part. If he can walk around here for 72 holes, he'll contend."

Woods is box office, even at 46 and the crowd cheered his every move ahead of the Masters.

"From the driving range, we could hear the loud roar when he came out of the clubhouse up to that first tee," said 2020 US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau of Woods being cheered on as he played on Monday. "That was pretty special to hear."

Another former Masters winner, English golfer Nick Faldo, spoke of the welcome Woods was given.

"Tiger just walked out of the clubhouse to scenes and atmosphere like you've never seen before," the three-time Masters winner tweeted. "Patrons cheering and flocking to cram around the putting green. And it's only Monday at the Masters."

Fans are not the only ones who wanted to see Woods, with some of the biggest names on the tour echoing their sentiment.

"It's exciting there's the possibility he's going to play this week," said Australia's Adam Scott, who won the Masters in 2013.

"I really hope he does. No matter what, it would just be epic."

Scott said that he thought Woods would be in it to win it, should he play.

"I've learned long ago never doubt the guy," Scott said. 

"If he can get around, which seems to be the question, you can't doubt his golf."

That was echoed by another Aussie pro, Cameron Smith. The winner of the Players Championship earlier this year played with Woods on Sunday.

"He's striking it well. He's hitting it far enough to play the holes the way you need to play them.

"I don't see any reason why he wouldn't be able to put rounds together out here."

Perhaps Rory McIlroy best summed up what is driving Woods.

"He likes to prove people wrong," the Northern Irishman said last week of Woods.

McIlroy also spoke on Tuesday just before Woods took to the stage at his own press conference.

"I've spent a little bit of time with him at home and the golf is there," McIlroy said of Woods. "He's hitting it well, he's chipping well, he's sharp.

"It's the physical demand of getting around 72 holes here this week - that's probably the question mark, but the golf game is there.

"So would I be surprised? No I'm not surprised at anything he does anymore."

None of us should be and if Woods can get round the 72 holes then do not put it past him to will himself to a sixth Masters crown and draw level with the great Jack Nicklaus.