Tiger makes final preparations for epic Masters return

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Thu, 2022-04-07 02:50

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Tiger Woods has talked the talk, now he’ll have to walk the walk as he chases a record-tying sixth Masters title only 14 months after suffering severe leg injuries in a car crash.

Woods, a 15-time major champion, played the back nine at hilly Augusta National on Wednesday in a final practice round before Thursday’s start of the 86th Masters, making one last test of his surgically repaired right leg.

“I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. It’s now walking is the hard part,” Woods said.

“This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the condition that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult. It’s going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I’m up for.”

The 46-year-old superstar, who says he fights pain every day, played an 18-hole practice round last week over the 7,510-yard layout and has played three nine-hole practice rounds over the past four days with pals Fred Couples and Justin Thomas.

“It’s a miraculous thing — 14 months ago I’m bawling like a baby every day, and now you pair with him and he looks strong,” Couples said.

“I know the leg is hurt, but he’s driving it with J.T. He’s hitting it plenty far enough to play this course and he has won here a bunch. He knows what to do.”

Barring a setback in his condition, Woods will tee off Thursday morning alongside South African Louis Oosthuizen and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann with thousands of spectators and a global television audience watching his every move.

“It really shouldn’t surprise us. He’s one of the most dedicated, determined athletes I’ve ever seen in my life,” Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley said. “Who knows what might happen this week? We’re excited he’s here.”

Woods has not played a competitive round in 17 months, since trying to defend his 2019 title at a 2020 Masters delayed to November by Covid-19.

“This is an incredible feat,” said Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major titles and record six Masters crowns. “Only reinforces the drive, passion and work ethic Tiger has always possessed.”

In February 2021, Woods was involved in an automobile accident that left him hospitalized for weeks and unable to walk for months, his right leg repaired with rods, plates and screws that have left him with limited mobility.

“I’ve been very excited about how I’ve recovered each and every day,” Woods said. “That has been the challenge… how am I going to get all the swelling out and recover for the next day.”

Woods, who has slumped to 973rd in the rankings due to his extended layoff, plans on a 72-hole trek over four days. His only missed Masters cut came in 1996 as an amateur.

“He’s a brilliant guy, he’s a great player and I think it’s amazing for him to be out here,” Couples said.

“He’s just not a guy to go do something mediocre. He’ll compete, and he’ll be ready to roll.”

Rain has softened the course, which could make footing even more treacherous, although that doesn’t concern Woods thanks to special footwear.

“I don’t worry about slipping,” he said. “I’ve got metals (spikes) in so I don’t have to worry about that. Even with the rain, it doesn’t really concern me.”

Woods, whose 82 US PGA Tour titles is level for the all-time record set by Sam Snead, would be the third-oldest major winner and oldest Masters champion if he wins Sunday.

Woods said he would have been satisfied with his career had his injuries been too severe to return.

“I think 82 is a pretty good number,” he said. “And 15 (majors) is not too bad either.”

“When I decide to hang it up, when I feel like I can’t win anymore, then that will be it. But I feel like I can still do it.”

If Woods does capture a sixth green jacket, it would be among the most astonishing comeback stories in sports history.

Being able to play, and walk at all, is an achievement for Woods, who feared amputation shortly after the crash.

“The fact that I was able to get myself here to this point is a success,” Woods said.

“Now that I’m playing, everything is focused on how do I get myself into the position where I’m on that back nine on Sunday with a chance.”

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