21 starts, 14 top-10 finishes, 8 top-3 finishes, five green jackets, leads the all-time scoring average (min 50 rounds), no missed cuts, and $9.6 million earned. Tiger Woods is not at Augusta National to make up the numbers.
It’s officially Masters week and speculation over whether Tiger will tee it up for the 22nd time has reached fever pitch. Golf Twitter is a bizarre place at the best of times but when images of the big cat started circling the Twittersphere on Sunday evening it sparked a hysterical frenzy.
It is fitting that Tiger is – hopefully – going to make his latest comeback at the site of his greatest triumph. Three years ago, Tiger climbed Everest when he won his 15th major title at Augusta in 2019 after recovering from spinal fusion surgery. Many thought he would never win a regular tournament again, never mind a major title, but this is Tiger Woods. Nothing is impossible.
Fourteen months ago, Tiger was in turmoil once again after he suffered a shattering leg break in a life-threatening car accident in February of last year. The fact he is still alive is miraculous having seen the wreckage and the state of his right leg. To be able to entertain the notion that Tiger might play this week is simply staggering.
To quote Butch Harmon during the week, “what’s higher than Everest? That’s what he is climbing.” Well, the 8th fairway is quite steep too!
Usually, I would join in the social media hype and get overly excited without taking the time to carefully consider the situation. However, my first thought when I saw the snaps of Tiger on the range was that he looked very healthy which is the most important thing. He didn’t look like he was struggling and grinding his way through the pain barrier just to play a round of golf. He looked genuinely well enough to be there which is a far cry from the weathered face with droopy eyes that was in the television booth at Riviera 14 months ago.
I saw a lot of people getting carried away with how well Tiger was hitting the ball on the practice tee on Sunday. Apparently, he didn’t miss a shot and hadn’t lost his speed, which only fuelled the excitement around his appearance and whether he could potentially win the thing!
Nonsense. He has been hitting golf balls as part of his recovery – of course he is going to be striping them! What people should be judging his potential success on this week is how healthy he looks. I mean, he was hardly going to show up at Augusta hacking it around the place, was he? Tiger is not here to just take part.
The acid test will undoubtedly be can he walk Augusta for four straight days in tournament play. I believe that is the only reason why Tiger hasn’t yet committed to playing this week. A lot can happen between now and Thursday morning.
I believe it is a case of when rather than if he commits at this stage which will raise the undoubted question… Can he win? While the easy thing is to get excited and lump a few quid on him for the sheer excitement and nostalgia, I would be rather cautious about his chances.
If you rewind back to his return from spinal fusion surgery, there were several steppingstones on the journey to his 15th major title at Augusta.
The first piece of the puzzle was just competing regularly – which he hasn’t done since the November Masters in 2020 – so while he may look healthy and look like he is swinging well, he hasn’t hit a golf ball competitively for 17 months.
The next step was getting into contention, and he did that at the 2018 Open Championship where he held the solo lead on the 10th hole on Sunday at Carnoustie as he threatened to do the impossible. Unfortunately, he faltered playing his final eight holes in two-over as he settled for a T-6th finish.
His next major championship Sunday was more like the Tiger of old as he ran Brooks Koepka to the pin of his collar at the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive. From there the belief that he could win again arrived.
And he did at the 2018 Tour Championship, sparking unbelievable scenes that only the great man could generate. Tiger was back, and how.
My abiding memory of that famous Masters victory is Tiger just plotting his way along, hanging in and not doing anything outrageous that made you think he was a certainty for victory. That was until the 12th hole and while Koepka, Francesco Molinari, and Tony Finau paid visits to a watery grave, Tiger sensed blood and drilled his shot into the heart of the green while sticking a dagger into the hearts of his competitors. From there, there was only going to be one winner.
But it had been coming over the last 12 months and while the prospect of Tiger playing this week is unbelievable, he is starting from zero again.
At the same time, I can’t rule him out this week, you just can’t. If he gets a sniff of a green jacket heading into the back nine on Sunday, you can bet your life he will do everything in his power to get it.
Making the cut isn’t an option for Tiger. He is here to win, and not just the PIP!