From his greatest triumphs to his darkest hours, Tiger Woods has been able to count on Augusta National as a sanctuary where he can focus on golf before supportive spectators.
So, it’s no wonder the 46-year-old US superstar, a 15-time Major winner and five-time Masters champion, could be looking to make a stunning comeback under the Georgia pines next week from severe leg injuries suffered in a February 2021 car crash.
“You never give up. That’s a given. You always fight,” Woods said after his 2019 Masters victory. “Just giving up’s never in the equation.”
An 18-hole practice round by Woods on Tuesday at Augusta National to test his fitness to walk the hilly layout captured the attention and imagination of the world.
Woods had given no timetable for when he might play competitively again after saying he was lucky to have survived the California auto accident in February 2021 that hospitalised him for weeks and left him unable to walk for months.
“I’m not going to play a full schedule ever again,” Woods said last December. “I’m going to have to pick and choose what events, and even then my body might not cooperate with that.
“It’s going to take a lot of work to get to where I feel like I can compete at these guys and be at a high level.”
But his walk around Augusta National hinted that if Woods wasn’t confident in the level of his game, he wouldn’t test himself only days before the Masters.
“There’s no other tournament in the world like this, and to come back to a place that I’ve had so many great memories at and so many great times in my life, it’s always special,” Woods says of Augusta National.
Woods won his first Major title at Augusta National in 1997, becoming the first black Major champion and at 21 the youngest to don a Green Jacket. He did it with a then course record of 18 under 270 to win by 12 strokes.
“Some of my best shots I’ve ever pulled off have been here,” Woods said. “It’s just a very special place and I get excited about it.”
When his life was shattered by the late 2009 revelation of an adultery scandal that led to a divorce from wife Elin, Woods made his return to golf at the 2010 Masters and drew cheers from the crowd, easing his comeback to competition.
“I didn’t know what to expect with regard to the reception,” Woods said in 2010. “The galleries couldn’t be nicer. It was just incredible. The encouragement that I got, it blew me away, to be honest with you, it really did.
“The people here over the years, I know they are extremely respectful, but today was just something that really touched my heart pretty good.”
After multiple back surgeries and fear that he might never have a pain-free life, Woods underwent a spinal fusion that enabled a 2018 comeback.
“It has been a tough road,” Woods said. “The pain of just sitting there and the amount of times I’ve fallen because my leg didn’t work or I just had to lay on the ground for extended periods of times – those are some really dark, dark times.
“It’s a miracle. I went from a person who really had a hard time getting up, walking around, sitting down, anything, to swinging a club.”
Woods cemented his miracle return with his first Major victory in 11 years at the 2019 Masters, tearfully hugging his children off the same 18th hole where he had embraced his parents after his first Major triumph 25 years earlier.
“Just unreal,” Woods said. “The whole tournament has meant so much to me over the years. Coming here in ’95 for the first time, and being able to play as an amateur, winning in ’97, and then come full circle, 22 years later, to be able to do it again.”
It’s more than simply playing the course so often and learning where to place the shots. It’s seeing the same fans in the same places year after year and hearing the roars echo across the famed layout.
“My relationship with this event and the patrons has been just special,” Woods said. “The tournament does an incredible job of creating a special atmosphere.”
Nothing is as special as the Masters Champions Dinner, which Woods will attend even if he doesn’t play.
“To see Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead drinking milkshakes, that was awesome,” Woods said. “Just to hear the stories of all the guys over the years. They are awesome stories.”
© Agence France-Presse