Step by painful step, Tiger Woods made an amazing return to golf at The Masters.
Yet the key to his green jacket chances could come from icy recovery treatments.
The 15-time Major winner spent more than five hours and 20 minutes hiking the hills of Augusta National on his way to a one-under-par 71, putting himself in contention only 14 months after suffering severe right leg injuries in a car crash.
“To get from there to here, it was no easy task,” Woods said. “If you would have seen how my leg looked to where it’s at now – some of the guys know. They’ve seen the pictures.”
Woods spent weeks hospitalised and months unable to walk. The rods, pins and screws that hold his leg together held up under an 18-hole stress test that saw him walk well behind his rivals and use a club as a walking stick at times.
To get himself ready for another 18 holes on Friday afternoon, Woods will use an ice bath to reduce the swelling even as the 46-year-old superstar hopes to maximise leg strength for power in his shotmaking.
“Lots of treatments. Lots of ice. Lots of ice baths. Just basically freezing myself to death. That’s just part of the deal,” Woods said.
“And getting all the swelling out as best as we possibly can and getting it mobile and warmed up, activated and explosive for the next day. Those are two totally different ends of the spectrum.”
Woods declared his ability to play a victory, achieved with the help of a group of physiotherapists.
“My team has been incredible at getting me into this position so that I can compete. I’ll take it from there,” Woods said. “I know how to play. I’ve just got to get out there where I can play.”
Woods, who has dropped to 973rd in the world rankings, said he feels his game is solid enough to win a 16th career Major title.
Being in the mix with 54 holes remaining was a major first stride back some 17 months after last playing a competitive top flight round at the 2020 Masters.
“I’m only three back. We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said. “This course is going to change and it’s going to get a lot more difficult.”
Woods knows for all the golf help caddie Joe LaCava can provide, he must face the hard part, walking the hilly 7,510-yard course on his own.
“Most sports, if you’re not feeling very good, you got a teammate to pass it off to, and they can kind of shoulder the load,” Woods said.
“Here we’ve got four straight days and there’s no one that’s going to shoulder the load besides me.”
Woods said he has not taken off one single day in his rehabilitation battle.
“We haven’t taken a day off since I got out of the bed after those three months,” Woods said. “Some days are easier than others. Some days we push it pretty hard and other days we don’t. But always doing something.
“It’s a commitment to getting back to a level that I feel that I can still do it. I did something positive today.”
Woods has had his injury fightback resolve tested before, winning the 2008 US Open on a broken leg and capturing the 2019 Masters after numerous back operations, including a spinal fusion.
With a victory this week, Woods would become the eldest Masters champion, three weeks older than Jack Nicklaus in 1986, and the third-oldest Major winner after Phil Mickelson (50) and Julius Boros (48).
© Agence France-Presse