Tiger Woods is back at the Masters, along with his slight limp. It’s not every step, every minute. But it is there. And as much hardware as he has in his patched right leg, the limp figures to accompany him as long as he pursues the sport he once dominated.
How much longer will he play Augusta National? That’s a little harder to predict.
Woods admitted that every trip to the Masters — at his age (47) and with surgeries on both legs and back over the past decade — he wonders if it will be the last.
“I don’t know how many more I have inside me,” Woods said Tuesday.
This will be his 25th time playing the Masters and Woods is still surprised it was a 24th. He was recovering from an accident last year that took his car off a suburban Los Angeles road at over 85 miles an hour, crushing bones in his right leg so badly he said doctors were considering amputation.
“I didn’t know at that point if I would play again,” Woods said. “For some reason it all kind of came together and I pushed it a little bit and I was able to make the cut, which was nice.”
Woods has had a huge presence at Augusta National due to his influence on the game, not to mention the five Green Jackets he’s won, the most recent in 2019. A year ago, the internet lit up with aviation tracking sites that his flight plan followed to the club for a pre-Masters scouting report.
And yet he now gives this master a sense of normalcy.
Golf has been consumed with the wide rift between the establishment and Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf, which has 18 players at the Masters barred from playing in regular PGA Tour events. There is speculation as to how the players on both sides will get along.
And then there’s Woods at the Masters. Azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom. Thousands follow him in training rounds. And Thursday brings a familiar refrain from the first tee: “Fore please, Tiger Woods driving.”
From there, no one is sure what to expect, including Woods.
“He’s looking good,” said Rory McIlroy, who played Monday with Woods, 63-year-old Fred Couples and 20-year-old Tom Kim. “You know, if he didn’t have to run up those hills and have all that, I’d say he’d be one of the favorites. He has all the shots. It’s just that physical limitation of running 72 holes, especially on a golf course as hilly as this.”
Woods has matured over time and through too many surgeries from a relentless champion to a guard willing to pass on some of the local knowledge he picked up as a younger man from Couples and Raymond Floyd, from Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
He still wants to compete. There would be no point in staying after dinner at the Masters Club on Tuesday night if that wasn’t the case. And he still thinks he can find some magic.
He’s said everywhere he’s played over the last year – a total of 11 rounds in four tournaments, one of which was a 36-hole exhibition in a cart with his son – that hitting shots isn’t the problem. It goes to the next.
“Yeah, mobility, that’s not where I’d like it to be,” Woods said. “I’ve told you guys before, I’m very lucky to have this leg – it’s mine. Yes, it’s been modified and there’s some hardware in it, but it’s still mine. It was tough and always will be tough. The ability and endurance of what my leg will do in the future will never be the same, I understand that.
“That’s why I can’t prepare and play as many tournaments as I would like, but that’s my future and that’s okay. I agree.”
Woods picked up a small win last year just by playing, and making the cut was a bonus. He’s never missed the cut at the Masters as a pro, and that streak is at stake again. On the other hand, he showed up to the Riviera in February for his first PGA Tour event in seven months and played all four rounds.
“I think my game is better at this point than last year,” he said. “I think my stamina is better. But it hurts a little bit more than last year just because I really hadn’t been pushing it that much at that particular point when I came back. And I had a little window where I did slide and could come back.
“I just have to be aware of how much I can push it,” he said. “Like Rory said, I can hit a lot of shots but the difficulty for me will be going forward. I wish it could be easier.”
So why show up?
Woods has long said there’s no point in showing up if he doesn’t think he can win. He teased with a 67 in the third round at Riviera. The shots are still in. And he knows Augusta National better than any championship course he plays.
He pointed to Couples, who swings freely and walks casually and still holds his own. Couples shares the record for most consecutive cuts made at the Masters at 23 with Gary Player. Woods can tie them if he makes it to the weekend.
Woods was asked if he felt that the younger players, to whom he passes some of his knowledge, perceive him as some kind of threat. In his 13 PGA Tour events since winning his record-breaking 82nd PGA Tour title, his best result is a tie in ninth place. That was before the car accident.
“Whether I’m a threat to them or not, who knows?” he said. “People probably didn’t think I was a threat in 2019 either, but it turns out it was fine.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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