The possibility of Tiger Woods making an incredible comeback has heightened excitement at Augusta National on Monday as the first official practice rounds began for the 86th Masters.
A quarter-century after Woods won his first Major title by an astonishing 12 strokes at Augusta National and launched ‘Tigermania’, the 15-time Major champion is again electrifying the atmosphere at the famed course.
Woods suffered severe right leg injuries 14 months ago in a car crash, was hospitalised for weeks and unable to walk for months.
After using a cart while playing alongside son Charlie in an event last December, Woods tested his fitness to walk the hilly course last Tuesday with an 18-hole practice round at Augusta National alongside Charlie and friend Justin Thomas.
Woods had given no timetable for his return to competition, but the move hinted he felt his game was ready to contend for a sixth Green Jacket, which would match the career record set by Jack Nicklaus.
Woods wouldn’t commit to playing even as he confirmed on Sunday he would practise more.
“It will be a game-time decision on whether I compete,” Woods tweeted.
That possibility and the chance to see Woods helped draw a full crowd of spectators to Augusta National on Monday for the first time since Woods won the 2019 Masters, patrons having been barred in 2020 and allowed only in limited numbers last year due to Covid-19.
With storms in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday, Monday could mark the last opportunity for Woods and other players to test themselves over the 7,510-yard, par-72 layout.
Woods played a back-nine practice round on Sunday afternoon, with some highlights of the two-hour session being tweeted out by the Masters.
Woods greeted other players and some familiar club faces during the round, according to the Masters website. He played alongside Australian Cameron Davis over the last five holes.
The 46-year-old superstar has not played an official tournament since defending his title at the 2020 Masters, played in November due to Covid-19.
“The competitive juices, they are never going to go away,” Woods said last December.
Woods has already made an extraordinary comeback effort at the Masters, having won the 2019 crown for his first major triumph since 2008 after spinal-fusion surgery.
Following his Southern California automobile accident, Woods has said he is lucky to be alive and not to have had his right leg amputated.
“When I had my back fusion, I didn’t know if I could ever be out here again,” Woods said in December. “This was a totally different deal. This was whether or not I would have a prosthetic or not, and I don’t.”
Should Woods play and manage a fairytale triumph on Sunday, he would become the oldest Masters winner and third-oldest Major champion in golf history, trailing only last year’s PGA Championship victory at age 50 by Phil Mickelson and Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA at age 48.
At 46 years, three months and 11 days, Woods would be a day older than Old Tom Morris when he won the 1867 Open and three weeks older than Nicklaus when he won the 1986 Masters.
Mickelson will miss the Masters for the first time since 1994, saying he needed time away from golf after the revealing of controversial remarks regarding a planned Saudi-backed PGA rival circuit.
Among those testing themselves over the weekend at Augusta National was defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, who withdrew from last week’s PGA Texas Open with a neck injury.
Matusyama, the first Japanese man to win a Major title and the first Asian-born player to win the Masters, has battled back issues that kept him out of the WGC Match Play and forced him out of the Players Championship last month.
The only players to win back-to-back Masters titles are Woods, Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.
© Agence France-Presse