AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | As an addendum to the extraordinary list of achievements in Tiger Woods’ remarkable career, there could be another list, a literal compilation of how his personal pieces have been put back together, Humpty Dumpty-like.
Knees. Legs. Backs.
Now this piece, teeing it up in the Masters on Thursday, 14 months after being pulled from the mangled wreckage of his SUV off the side of a southern California road, the pieces of his ravaged right leg put back together by surgeons, therapists and a braveheart will.
“As of right now, I feel like I am going to play,” Woods said late Tuesday morning, sitting in the Augusta National interview room where every seat was filled, awaiting those words.
Woods’ story has been speckled by comebacks, but this one is different. His spinal fusion threatened his ability to play golf like he had, but the auto accident threatened his life first and his ability to walk after his survival had been assured.
Woods didn’t say exactly when his participation in this Masters went from “a game-time decision” on Sunday to saying a qualified yes 48 hours later, but, barring a last-minute setback, Woods will be on the first tee Thursday at 10:34 a.m. chasing a sixth green jacket.
Does he really think he can win?
“I do,” Woods said, pausing after his answer, to emphasize his point.
He’s 46 years old now and his hair is thinner, but he’s still Tiger.
Woods says he has the golf part covered. He’s been puring it for a while, and the parts that require fine-tuning – the chipping and putting that save shots around Augusta National – are where they need to be.
The challenge will be handling Augusta National’s hills for four tournament days, the ground softened by heavy rains Tuesday. And then comes handling the spring chill that is forecast this weekend, with temperatures topping out around 60 degrees, with enough breeze to make it feel colder.
“Any time it’s cold, it doesn’t feel very good,” Woods said of how his body reacts these days.
Still, two days into Masters week, it feels like a celebration of Woods – being here, being competitive, being alive.
When Woods showed up at Augusta National on Sunday afternoon, the tournament produced a video of him on property, a visual rhapsody framed by sunshine and smiles.
When he teed off Monday afternoon to play nine holes with his buddies Fred Couples and Justin Thomas, it felt as if Augusta National tilted in their direction, the size of his gallery looking like something on a Sunday afternoon.
“The last time I’d had patrons out here was on that Sunday when I won (in 2019), and it felt a little bit like that,” Woods said of the reaction.
“Not quite as frenzied as that was. That was a little bit different. That was on a Sunday of a championship Sunday. But (Monday) was incredible. Everyone loves Freddie. That’s why they all came out.”
That’s how good he’s feeling.
As patrons came into the property Tuesday morning, rushing to beat the approaching rain, many turned toward the practice tee rather than course when they heard Woods was doing his morning work there.
“You can feel it,” said Jon Rahm, who was on the seventh hole Monday when he saw the avalanche of fans following Woods come down the nearby second fairway.
If it all sounds a little too good to be true, maybe it is, but Woods has conditioned us through his brilliance to believe he can do what others can’t. He has built a legend doing it.
Just listen to what others are saying about him this week.
Rory McIlroy: “I’ve spent a little bit of time with him at home, and the golf is there. He’s hitting it well. He’s chipping well. He’s sharp. It’s just 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 (if Woods contends)? No, I’m not surprised at anything he does anymore.”
Webb Simpson: “Any time anybody asks me, ‘Can Tiger contend?’ the answer is, ‘Yes.’ ”
Fred Couples: “If he can walk around here (for) 72 holes, he’ll contend. He’s too good. He’s too good.”
Whether intentional or not, Woods is scheduled to play early then late in the first two rounds, going out with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann at 10:34 a.m. Thursday. A little more time to rest, a little more time to recover. Woods knows all about it.
He also believes he can win again. After three months in a hospital bed, time in a wheelchair and on crutches, Woods has worked his way back to Augusta National for more than the Tuesday night Champions Dinner.
“When I decide to hang it up when I feel like I can’t win anymore, then that will be it,” Woods said. “But I feel like I can still do it, and 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.”
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