Tiger Woods is back at the Masters, along with his slight limp. It is not every step, every minute. But it is there. And as much hardware as he has in his mended right leg, the limp figures to be with him for as long as he plays the sport he once dominated.
As for how long he keeps playing Augusta National? That’s a little harder to foresee.
Woods conceded that each trip to the Masters — at his age (47) and with surgeries on both legs and his back over the last decade — makes him wonder if it’s going to be the last one.
“I don’t know how many more I have in me,” Woods said Tuesday.
This will be his 25th time playing the Masters, and Woods still is surprised there was a 24th. He was still recovering last year from crashing his car off a suburban Los Angeles road at over 85 mph, crushing bones in his right leg so badly he said doctors contemplated amputation.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play again at that time,” Woods said. “For some reason, everything kind of came together and I pushed it a little bit and I was able to make the cut, which was nice.”
Woods has an enormous presence at Augusta National because of his impact on the game, not to mention the five green jackets he has won, the last one in 2019. A year ago, the internet lit up with aviation tracking sites that followed his flight plan to the club for a pre-Masters scouting report.
And yet now he gives this Masters a sense of normalcy.
Golf has been consumed with the great divide between the establishment and Saudi-funded LIV Golf, which has 18 players at the Masters who are suspended from playing regular PGA Tour events. There is speculation how players on both sides will get along.
And then there is Woods at the Masters. Azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom. Thousands follow him in practice rounds. And Thursday will bring a familiar refrain from the first tee: “Fore please, Tiger Woods driving.”
From there, no one is sure what to expect, Woods included.
“He looks 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 walk up these hills and have all of that, I’d say he’d be one of the favorites. He’s got all of the shots. It’s just that physical limitation of walking 72 holes, especially on a golf course as hilly as this.”
Woods has matured, through time and too many surgeries, from the relentless champion to a guardian willing to pass along 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 the Masters Club dinner Tuesday night if that were not the case. And he still thinks he can find a little magic.
He has said everywhere he has played over the last year — a total of 11 rounds in four tournaments, one of them a 36-hole exhibition in a cart with his son — that hitting shots isn’t the problem. It’s getting to the next one.
“Yeah, mobility, it’s not where I would like it,” Woods said. “I’ve said to you guys before, I’m very lucky to have this leg — it’s mine. Yes, it has been altered and there’s some hardware in there, but it’s still mine. It has been tough and will always be tough. The ability and endurance of what my leg will do going forward will never be the same. I understand that.
“That’s why I can’t prepare and play as many tournaments as I like, but that’s my future, and that’s OK. I’m OK with that.”
Woods found a small victory in just playing last year, and making the cut was a bonus. He has never missed the cut at the Masters as a pro, and that streak is on the line again. Then again, he showed up at Riviera in February for his first PGA Tour event in seven months and played all four rounds.
“I think my game is better than it was last year at this particular time,” he said. “I think my endurance is better. But it aches a little bit more than it did last year just because at that particular time when I came back, I really had not pushed it that often. And I had a little window in which I did push it and was able to come back.
“I just have to be cognizant of how much I can push it,” he said. “Like Rory was saying, I can hit a lot of shots but the difficulty for me is going to be the walking going forward. I wish it could be easier.”
So why bother showing up?
Woods long has said there’s no point in showing up if he didn’t think he could win. He teased with a 67 in the third round at Riviera. The shots are still in there. And he knows Augusta National better than any championship course he plays.
He pointed to Couples, who swings freely and walks casually, and still can hold his own. Couples shares the record with Gary Player for most consecutive cuts made at the Masters with 23. Woods can tie them if he makes it to the weekend.
Woods was asked if he felt the younger players to whom he passes along some of his knowledge perceive him as any kind of a threat. In his 13 PGA Tour events since he won his record-tying 82nd title on the PGA Tour, his best finish is a tie for ninth. That was before the car crash.
“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 kind of turned out OK.”
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