Does he think he could win the Masters this week?
On Tuesday morning, Woods confirmed the one news that could single-handedly transform the Masters from this year’s first golf major into a mainstream sporting event: After recovering from his serious injuries following the car accident in California in February 2021, he intends to try to compete in Masters, which begins Thursday, and where he will be in the hunt for what would be a record-breaking sixth green jacket.
“Right now, I feel like I’m going to play,” Woods said during a 25-minute press conference here. “I have to play nine more holes tomorrow. My recovery has been good; I have been very excited about how I have recovered every day.”
Shortly after, Masters officials announced tee times for the first two rounds. Woods starts at 10.34 Thursday with the company of South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Chile’s Joaquín Niemann. That triangle starts playing at 1:41 p.m. Friday in the second round.
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Woods’ last tournament was the pandemic-delayed 2020 Masters, which was held in November, where he finished as number 38. A little more than three months later, he suffered shattered open fractures of the tibia and fibula in his right leg after his car drove of a road in Southern California where both bones broke into at least three pieces and pierced the skin. Woods also suffered foot and ankle injuries and has said doctors at one point considered amputation.
He said Tuesday that he still has leg pain “every day.” His challenges are not only to deal with that pain, but to rest and recover enough from each round so he can do it again the following day. When he first appeared on Augusta as a teenager, he was an athletic, flexible force. Now he has to control his body more like a geriatrician.
“It’s going to be painful … because of simple things I would normally do, which would now take a few hours here and a few hours there to prepare and then relax,” Woods said. “So activity time to do what I want to do, it adds more time on both sides of it – before and after.”
Which was part of the calculation on 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 on getting to Sunday on the back nine with a chance.”
For any of the other 90 players in the field, such a performance would be laughable in such circumstances. But during a career that now spans a quarter of a century – his groundbreaking first Masters triumph came 25 years ago when he was only 21 – Woods has shown a penchant for both the absurdly unexpected and the impossibly dramatic. He won the 2008 US Open on a broken leg, and his fifth Masters victory came in 2019, after undergoing five back surgeries.
Still, he’s probably more familiar with Augusta National than his own backyard. The challenge, he said, will not be to put the club face straight on the ball. It will get his body around Augusta’s undulating, uneven terrain for four and a half hours four days in a row.
“I can hit it fine,” Woods said. “I have no qualms about what I can do physically from a golf point of view. Walking is the hard part. … Seventy-two holes are a long way. It will be a tough challenge and a challenge I am ready for. ”
When Woods began introducing unprecedented length off the tee more than two decades ago, Augusta responded by extending the course. These changes continue today – the tee spot on par-4 11. is further back this year – and contribute to the physical demands of playing Masters, even for younger players.
“It’s a very difficult course to take,” 28-year-old Justin Thomas, a frequent playmate, told Woods. “It’s the toughest of the year. It’s very, very long, very hilly, many long walks back to the tees. … You add that along with some of the craziest undulating and terrain on any course we want to play all year, gives it some pretty tired, sore legs at the end of the week. “
The 508 days between tournaments will be the longest layoff in Woods’ career, topping the 466-day break he took between August 2015 and December 2016 to deal with what became chronic back problems. Woods then did not compete in earnest again until the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, where he recorded eight top-10 finishes and a memorable victory at the season-ending Tour Championship. He followed that up with the fifth Masters victory in April 2019, which also stands as his most recent victory.
Woods announced Sunday that he traveled to Augusta National to train for the second time in five days and that his Masters participation would be “a battle-time decision.” On Monday, he played a practice round with Thomas and other Masters champion Fred Couples, where he walked the course with what was described as a light limp (Woods is not allowed to use a cart during the tournament). On Tuesday, he did not walk the track, which limited his work to the training area before storms closed training rounds. He said he intended to play nine more holes on Wednesday.
Who can win the green jacket? Degradation of competitors.
“I do not have to worry about ball shots 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 his career as a full-time professional golfer is over because he could not “foresee that this leg would ever become what it used to be.” He added, however, that he could see himself playing in occasional PGA Tour events. In December, he played in an unofficial father-son tournament with Charlie, where he used a wagon to get around the Florida track and finished second after John Daly and his son.
But since becoming a professional in 1996, he has been aware of his own standard for himself: If he participates in a tournament, he expects to win. It seemed brave when he was 20. Yet he has never wavered from it – and is not now.
“If I feel like I can not,” Woods said, “then you will not see me out here.”
He is here now for the 24th time as a player. His five green jackets follow only Jack Nicklaus’ six. He is the only player who could show up under these circumstances, say the following and not be laughed out of space.
“I do not show up for an event unless I think I can win it,” Woods said. ‘So that’s the attitude I’ve had. There will come a day when it does not happen and I know when it will be. ”
Woods made it clear Tuesday: It’s not this week.
Bonesteel reported from Washington.