Tiger Woods has talked the talk, now he’ll have to walk the walk as he chases a record-tying sixth Masters title only 14 months after suffering severe leg injuries in a car crash.
Woods played the back nine at hilly Augusta National on Wednesday in a final practice round before Thursday’s start of the 86th Masters, making one last test of his surgically repaired right leg.
“I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. It’s now walking is the hard part,” Woods said.
“This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the condition that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult. It’s going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I’m up for.”
The 46-year-old superstar, who says he fights pain every day, played an 18-hole practice round last week over the 7,510-yard layout and has played three nine-hole practice rounds over the past four days.
“I don’t have to worry about the ball-striking,” Woods said. “It’s actually just the hills.”
Barring a setback in his condition, Woods will tee off on Thursday morning alongside South African Louis Oosthuizen and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann with thousands of spectators and a global TV audience watching his every move.
“It really shouldn’t surprise us. He’s one of the most dedicated, determined athletes I’ve ever seen in my life,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said. “Who knows what might happen this week? We’re excited he’s here.”
Woods, a 15-time Major champion, has not played a competitive round in 17 months, since trying to defend his 2019 title at a 2020 Masters delayed to November by Covid-19.
“Considering where his life was 17 months ago, this is an incredible feat,” said Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 Major titles and record six Masters crowns. “Only reinforces the drive, passion and work ethic Tiger has always possessed.”
In February 2021, Woods was involved in an automobile accident that left him hospitalised for weeks and unable to walk for months, his right leg repaired with rods, plates and screws that have left him with limited mobility.
“I’ve been very excited about how I’ve recovered each and every day,” Woods said. “That has been the challenge … how am I going to get all the swelling out and recover for the next day.”
Woods, a former world No 1 who has slumped to 973rd in the rankings due to his extended layoff, plans on a 72-hole trek over four days. His only missed Masters cut came in 1996 as an amateur.
“It gets agonising and teasing because of simple things. It’s not like something I haven’t done, but the times have gotten longer on both sides,” Woods said of the time it takes him to prepare and recover from a round.
“We push it and try and recover the best we possibly can that night and see how it is the next morning. Then you’ve got to do that day in and day out.”
“I don’t worry about slipping,” he said. “I’ve got metals [spikes] in, so I don’t have to worry about that. Even with the rain, it doesn’t really concern me.”
Woods, whose 82 US PGA Tour titles are level for the all-time record set by Sam Snead, said he would have been satisfied with his career had his injuries been too severe to return.
“I think 82 is a pretty good number,” he said. “And 15 [Majors] is not too bad either.”
“When I decide to hang it up, when I feel like I can’t win anymore, then that will be it. But I feel like I can still do it.”
If Woods does capture a sixth Green Jacket, it would be among the most astonishing comeback stories in sports history.
But simply being able to play, and walk at all, is an achievement for Woods, who feared amputation shortly after the crash.
“The fact that I was able to get myself here to this point is a success. Now that I’m playing, everything is focused on how do I get myself into the position where I’m on that back nine on Sunday with a chance, just like I did a few years ago,” said Woods, who returned from spinal-fusion surgery to win the 2019 Masters, his first Major title since limping to victory at the 2008 US Open on a broken leg.
© Agence France-Presse