Does he think he can win the Masters this week?
Woods on Tuesday morning confirmed the one news that could single-handedly transform the Masters from their first major golf tournament of the year into a major sporting event: After recovering from the serious injuries he sustained in a car crash in California in February 2021, he intends to attempt it. Compete in the Masters Tournament, which begins on Thursday in which he will be in pursuit of what could be a record-breaking sixth green jacket.
“As of now, I feel like I’m going to play,” Woods said during a 25-minute press conference here. “I will play nine more holes tomorrow. My recovery has been good; I have been very excited about how I am recovering each day.”
Shortly thereafter, Masters officials released the tee times for the first two rounds. Woods plays at 10:34 am Thursday, joined by South African Louis Oosthuizen and Chilean Joaquin Neiman. Triple play will begin at 1:41 p.m. Friday in Round Two.
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Woods’ last tournament was the pandemic-delayed 2020 Masters, which took place in November, when he tied for 38th. A little more than three months later, he suffered comminuted and fibula fractures in his right leg after his car veered off a road in South California, with both bones broken in at least three pieces and skin punctured. Woods also suffered from foot and ankle injuries and said that doctors have at one point considered amputation.
He said Tuesday that he still had leg pain “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 next day. When he debuted in Augusta as a teen, he was athletic and resilient. Now, he should run his body like an old man.
“It gets painful…because of the simple things I usually do, and now it takes a few hours here and two hours there to prepare and then relax,” Woods said. “So the activity time to do what I want to do, it adds more time on both sides – before and after -.”
Which was part of calculating whether he could compete.
“The fact that I was able to get myself here at this point is a success,” Woods said. “Now that you’re here, the focus is on Sunday in the back with a chance.”
For any of the other 90 players on the field, such an idea under the circumstances would be laughable. But over the course of his career that now spans a quarter-century — his first major Masters victory came 25 years ago, when he was just 21 — Woods has demonstrated a penchant for both the unexpected and the impossibly unexpected. He won the 2008 US Open with a broken leg, and his fifth Masters win came in 2019, after he underwent five back surgeries.
However, he is probably familiar with Agusta National more than in his backyard. The challenge, he said, would not be to put the club’s face directly on the ball. His body would rotate around Augusta’s undulating and uneven terrain for four and a half hours four days in a row.
“I can hit it just 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 is a long way. It will be a tough challenge and a challenge I am for.”
When Woods began introducing unprecedented length on a tee more than two decades ago, Augusta responded by lengthening the track. And those changes continue today – the jersey in par-4 is the furthest this year – and contribute to the physical demands of playing the Masters, even for younger players.
“It’s a very difficult path to walk,” said 28-year-old Justin Thomas, a frequent partner at Woods. “It’s the toughest of the year. It’s so long, so hilly, a lot of hiking to the tees. … I added that along with some of the craziest ripples and terrain on any course we’ll be playing all year round, it produces some very tired and sore legs at the end of the week” .
The 508 days between tournaments would be the longest layoff in Woods’ career, as he issued 466 days of layoffs between August 2015 and December 2016 to deal with what have become his chronic back problems. Woods then did not compete seriously again until the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, when he scored eight of the Top 10 finals and a memorable victory in the season-ending Tour Championship. He followed that up with his fifth Masters win in April 2019, which also marks his last win.
Woods announced Sunday that he will travel to Augusta National to train for the second time in five days and that his participation in the Masters will be a “game time decision.” On Monday, he played a practice round with Thomas and fellow Masters champ Fred Coples, and walked the course with what was described as a slight limp (Woods would not be allowed to use a cart during the tournament). On Tuesday, he didn’t walk the course, and his work was confined to the training area before storms closed the practice rounds. He said he plans to play nine more holes on Wednesday.
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“You don’t have to worry about hitting the ball or golfing,” Woods said. “I have to worry about the hills here. That is the challenge.”
Woods had previously said that his career as a full-time professional golfer was over because he couldn’t “expect this leg to be what it used to be.” However, he added that he could see himself playing in the occasional PGA Tour events. In December, he played in an informal father-son tournament with Charlie, using a wagon to cruise the Florida track and finishing second behind John Daly and his son.
But since turning professional in 1996, he’s been clear about his own criteria: If he takes part in a tournament, he does so expecting to win. It seemed harsh when he was twenty years old. However, he never backtracked on it – which he isn’t now.
“If you feel like I can’t, you won’t see me out here,” Woods said.
He is here now for the 24th time as a player. Only six of his five green jackets follow Jack Nicklaus. He’s the only player who can show up under these circumstances, say the following and not get laughed out of the room.
“I don’t attend any event unless I think I can win it,” Woods said. “This is the situation I had. There will be a day when it won’t happen, and I will know when it happens.”
It’s not this week, Woods explained on Tuesday.
Bonestell reported from Washington.