Throughout his amazing career, Tiger Woods has maintained that he enters a tournament only because he thinks he can win it. The Masters this week, where he makes a miraculous comeback less than 14 months after a life-threatening car accident, is no different.
On Tuesday, after playing nine practice holes on Sunday and nine on Monday, the five-time Masters champion and still the sport's biggest draw 25 years after he first made history at Augusta National as a wiry 21-year-old, indicated he would be teeing it up on Thursday for his 24th Master's appearance -- a statement that sent the rest of the field, the tournament, and the golf world buzzing.
"As of right now, I feel like I am going to play," the 15-time Major champion told a news conference at the Augusta National.
"I'm going to play nine more holes tomorrow (Wednesday). My recovery has been good. I've been very excited about how I've recovered each and every day, and that's been the challenge. That's why I came up here (last week) and tested it out for 27 holes because we also played the par-3 course. Charlie (his son) couldn't help himself. I was able to play 27 holes that day and at home. But it's the recovery. How am I going to get all the swelling out and recover for the next day. My team has been fantastic and worked very hard. So, we've got another day of nine more holes, and then come game time," he said.
Asked if he thought he'd be able to win this week, Woods replied, deadpan: "I do."
He said: "I can hit it just fine. I don't have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. It's walking that is the hard part now. This (hilly terrain) is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the condition that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult. You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it's going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I'm up for. "I love competing. I feel like if I can still compete at the highest level, I'm going to. And if I feel like I can still win, I'm going to play. But if I feel like I can't, then you won't see me out here."
Woods, 46, said he felt gratitude as he makes yet another comeback. He was still recovering from his fifth back surgery when on February 23, 2021, he crashed his SUV over a median on a suburban coastal road in Los Angeles and down the side of a hill. Woods' injuries from that crash were so severe that doctors considered right leg amputation, before reassembling the limb by placing a rod in the tibia and using screws and pins to stabilise additional injuries in the ankle and foot.
The previous roadblocks to his career have been from a busted knee, five back surgeries as well, and another break following a series of scandalous affairs in 2009. "Very, very thankful. Thankful for just everyone's support, everyone who's been involved in my process of the work that I've put in each and every day. And to all the support from the fans and players out there," said Woods, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month.
"We're a big fraternity. The number of texts and FaceTimes and calls I've gotten over the past year has meant a lot. To see some of the guys at home, or to see them yesterday in person and say thanks, was great."
The pristine Augusta National Golf Club never lacks energy during the Masters week, but it was a sight to behold on Monday's first day of practice as more than 35,000 fans flocked behind the game's biggest superstar. Fred Couples played the front nine of the course alongside Woods and Justin Thomas, and the 1992 Masters champion was in awe. "He looked phenomenal," Couples said. "What impressed me the most is he was bombing it. I know JT (Thomas) is not the longest hitter on the Tour, but I know he's damn long. And Tiger was right there with him, flushing it."
Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, probably the second most popular figure in the sport, narrated his take on the Tiger-mania that swept through the golf course when Woods appeared for his practice round on Monday afternoon.
"We were on the ninth green when Tiger teed off yesterday, and it was a mass exodus from the ninth green to the first tee. The back nine was lovely and quiet after that," said McIlroy.
Woods has received a favorable draw, going out early on Thursday and late for Friday's second round, which should give him more time to recover than the other way round.
In Thursday's first round, Woods has been paired with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and Chilean star Joaquin Niemann and will tee off at 10:34 local time. They start their second round at 13:41 local time.