Daring to think that he can not only compete in this Masters but also win it – “I do,” he said flatly – Woods has set no boundaries on what to expect if he does indeed tee it up at his assigned time of 10:34 Thursday morning. Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann are the assigned spear carriers in that operatic threesome.
“I can hit it just fine,” Woods reported during his Tuesday morning press briefing. “I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. It’s now walking that’s 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.”
Walking is deemed a rather important part of professional golf, it being the key demand that separates it from sunbathing. Woods this week figures to be the world’s most famous pedestrian.
It has been said famously that golf is a good walk spoiled. Here is a man with the slightest hitch in his step trying to prove that it can be a spoiled walk made good.
If Monday’s wild 9-hole practice round was any indication, the return of golf’s one transcendent player will use up most of the oxygen here at least for the first two rounds. For mere rehearsal swings boisterous crowds gathered 10 deep to witness shots that no one counted as if trying to verify something of National Enquirer-headline proportion was taking place, like Bigfoot working on his short game.
“There’s a lot more electricity in the air,” tournament favorite Jon Rahm said.
“(Woods) creates attention on the game of golf that no one else can,” four-time major winner Rory McIlroy said. “That’s great for his peers. It’s great for the media. It’s great for this golf club. It’s great for everyone. Any time Tiger Woods is involved, it’s a wonderful thing.”
His involvement this week seemed doubtful as recently as a week ago. Little about the timeline since he ran his car off a Southern California road on Feb. 23, 2021, left reason for optimism he’d play again anytime in the foreseeable future, if ever. Especially for an oft-injured star who’s now 46 and considered on the shady side of his competitive prime.
Woods suffered open compound fractures to both the tibia and fibula of his right leg. Surgeons pieced the leg together with a rod and pins and screws. The thought of playing golf again was down the list of priorities, somewhere behind saving the leg and taking a step that didn’t bring tears to his eyes.
Asked Tuesday if he could have imagined being back to play at this Masters during the dark first days after the crash, Woods answered, “Well, at that time I was still in a hospital bed. I never left that hospital bed even to see my living room for three months. So that was a tough road. To finally get out of that where I wasn’t in a wheelchair or crutches and walking and still having more surgeries ahead of me – to say that I was going to be here playing and talking to you guys again, it would have been very unlikely.”
The thought of him playing here came out of seemingly nowhere and quickly gained momentum. Woods came to Augusta National last week to play an exploratory practice round in the company of his son Charlie. He was encouraged enough to play a further nine holes Sunday and nine more Monday, after which playing partner Freddie Couples declared, “He looked phenomenal.”
“I don’t know the right words. It’s not shocking because he’s the greatest player to ever play. You give him a couple minutes, you give him a couple good legs and he swings like this,” Couples said Monday. “But now comes the walking part of it. I’m not a guy that’s going to guesstimate on that.”
When asked to find the one right word to describe his own outlook now, Woods said: “Thankful.”
“Yeah, very, very thankful,” he said. “Thankful for just everyone’s support, everyone who’s been involved in my process of the work that I’ve put in each and every day.”
It’s planned now that Woods will dig his special golf spikes into the ground Thursday – “With the rods and plates and screws that are in my leg, I needed something different, something that allowed me to be more stable,” he said – and once more rule a tournament he has won five times.
That’s whether he shoots 65 or 80. He’d lean more toward the former number.
“I feel like I can still do it. I feel like I still have the hands to do it, the body’s moving good enough. I’ve been in worse situations and played and won tournaments,” Woods said. “Now, I haven’t been in situations like this where I’ve had to walk and endure what I’m going to try and endure, that’s going to be a different challenge.”
Given that this is the Masters, which has a way of bringing out the remarkable in Woods, it’s a challenge that will fascinate for however long it lasts.