Augusta, Ga. (AP) – Tiger Woods’ 91st competitive round at the Masters will begin like the rest.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, five-time champion T will stick his T-T in the ground of Olive, name Augusta National’s first hole, take a swing of practice and continue a familiar walk that began a quarter-century ago.
This happens when Woods returns his driver to his bag, which will determine whether his surgically repaired right leg – or the rest of the 46-year-old Hall of Famer – is different from any other for testing. Facing his career.
Walking five miles or more through the Augusta National Georgia Pines is more than 11,000 steps up and down and up. It needs to hit shots from unequal lies. Needed when digging in pine straw. Trying to reach the top of the bunkers that can go so deep – as par-3 does in the fourth hole – you have to jump if you want to see the flag.
No one but Jack Nicholas has navigated the wide course like Woods. No active player is as adept at outlining every inch of perfectly manicured Bermuda grass.
That’s why Woods didn’t complain when he said Tuesday that “walking is the hard part.” He says merely a reality. And he is the only one who knows how physically dull the competition in the Masters can be.
Two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange would leave the tournament with a shin splint. Strange doesn’t have to do this when working on a leg bound with rod and plate metal detectors when they start to vibrate when they see you approaching a corner.
“You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it’s going to be a tough challenge and a challenge I’m ready for,” Woods said.
At least in theory. He has not played 18 holes in Augusta National for days since he was amputated in a car accident in February 2021, prompting doctors to consider amputation. Now he’s asking the same leg to anchor 15 wins in 15 major championships and a PGA Tour record to hold four rounds in 81 hours or more.
It doesn’t even include warm-up or recovery, it takes a lot more time than it did 25 years ago when he punched in his first green jacket.
It’s asking a lot. Yes, it’s just walking. Just it’s no ordinary walk. And this is no ordinary week. For Woods or anyone else.
“I think most of the stress we have is probably more than physical,” said world number one Scott Schaefler, who was born at the age of 25, less than a year before Woods won his first Masters title.
The pressure is no longer in Woods’ ears, but under his feet. The changes in height from your opening shot are almost constant. From the hill first to the fairway, then back to the green. No. 2 down a hill again. Rotating terrain at number 3. A high tee at number 4. Climb almost all the way to No. 7. Same number 8. Climb to the 9th turn.
The back nine is a noise. The 10th fairway can be doubled as a ski slope. Another trek down the 11th Amen Corner. The 12th and 13th give some leeway. On the 14th mound and a diagonal fareway, where a flat lie is basically a myth. The 15th green is a gentle descent. The 16th provides a break, one last climb back to the clubhouse before the 17th starts.
Woods admits that his mobility is so limited that he dropped the Nike Clitus for footjoy because it gives him more comfort. He hopes the adrenaline jolt triggered by the first capacity crowd in August since his Titanic victory in 2019 will help him.
Still, golf is golf. Throw in the crucible that the Masters and Woods know adversity is inevitable. He insisted he would not simply return to being a field filler. That’s simply not his way. Not only does he ask her to help him walk around, but Hideki Matsuyama will have to wear a sixth green jacket over his shoulder while standing in the 18th green at the end of Sunday afternoon.
That sounds impossible. It may very well be impossible.
“When I decide to hang it, when I feel like I can’t win anymore, that’s what will happen,” he said. “But I think I can still do it, and I think I still have my hands to do it, the body is going well enough. I’ve been in a worse situation and have played and won the tournament.”
Yes and no. He won the 2008 US Open in Torre Pine with one foot. Yet he was only 32 at the time. He is now closer to 60 than on that bright Father’s Day weekend back home in California.
The soul is willing. In 1995, he first ducked under a rope as an amateur in Augusta.
The rest of him, especially the right ankle that has to carry so much weight – with your name being Tiger Woods as well as internal and external expectations – will determine if this long walk will be wasted.
“I don’t have to worry about ball striking or playing golf, it’s actually off the hill here,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s going to be a big marathon challenge.”