AUGUSTA, Ga. — Just over 14 months after Tiger Woods nearly lost his right leg in a serious car crash, he said that as of now, he plans to play in this week’s Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.
Woods, a 15-time major champion, even said he’s capable of winning a sixth green jacket, which would tie Jack Nicklaus for the most ever.
“As of right now, I feel like I am going to play, as of right now,” Woods said during a news conference Tuesday. “I’m going to play nine more holes [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.”
Woods’ decision comes after he played a practice round last week with his son, Charlie, and good friend Justin Thomas. Then Woods announced he was coming to Augusta National to continue practicing and that his decision to play would be a “game-time decision.” He played the second nine holes during a practice round Sunday and then the first nine Monday. He practiced again Tuesday morning before inclement weather closed the course.
Asked if he believes he can win the Masters this week, Woods said, “I do.”
“I can hit it just fine,” Woods said. “I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. It’s now walking is the hard part. This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the conditions 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.”
Woods will tee off in the first round at 10:34 a.m. ET on Thursday with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann. The threesome will start at 1:41 p.m. ET, in the third-to-last group, in Friday’s second round.
“I love competing, and 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,” Woods said. “But if I feel like I can’t, then you won’t see me out here. You guys know me better than that.
“I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it. So that’s the attitude I’ve had. There will be a day when it won’t happen, and I’ll know when that is, but physically the challenge this week is I don’t have to worry about the ballstriking or the game of golf, it’s actually just the hills out here. That’s going to be the challenge, and it’s going to be a challenge of a major marathon.”
Woods, 46, was seriously injured in a car crash outside Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 2021. Doctors inserted a rod in the tibia of his right leg and plates and screws in his right ankle and foot. He told reporters in December that surgeons nearly had to amputate his right leg. On Tuesday, Woods said he didn’t leave a hospital bed for three months while recovering.
“I never left that hospital bed even to see my living room for three months,” he said. “So that was a tough road. To finally get out of that where I wasn’t in a wheelchair or crutches and walking and still had more surgeries ahead of me, to say that I was going to be here playing and talking to [media] again, it would have been very unlikely.”
Woods said he is in pain while playing golf, but has learned to endure it after coming back from multiple back and knee surgeries in the past.
“It’s been one of those things where I’ve had to endure pain before,” Woods said. “This is different, obviously. This is a lot more traumatic, what has transpired to my leg. We’ve had to put in a lot of work. As I said, I’m very thankful to my surgeons and my [physical therapists] and physios that have worked on me and have given me this opportunity to play golf.
“It’s just a matter of what my body’s able to do the next day and the recovery. That’s the hard part. Yes, we push it and try and recover the best we possibly can that night and see how it is the next morning. Then all the activations and going through that whole process again, and you warm it up, and then you warm it back down, or test it out, and then you’ve got to cool it back down. Then you’ve got to do that day in and day out.”
“I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it.”
Woods said movement in his right leg and foot probably won’t get much better than how it is now.
“[My] movement probably will not get much better,” he said. “Will I feel better? Yes, I will. I’m going to get stronger, and the whole limb will get stronger. But as far as movement, probably not much more. I’m so limited with the hardware in there, I won’t get much more.”
Woods hasn’t played in a regular PGA Tour event in more than 17 months. His last start came in the 2020 Masters, which was played in November that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He tied for 38th.
Woods’ return to competitive golf comes near the 25th anniversary of his first Masters victory in 1997, when he won by a record 12 shots while shooting a tournament-record 18-under par 270 over four rounds.
In December 2020, about two months before his car wreck, Woods had surgery to alleviate nerve pain in his lower back. He had that same procedure three previous times, once in 2014 and twice the next year. He then had a far more serious spinal fusion in April 2017, from which he came back to play less than a year later.
In April 2019, Woods won the Masters, his first major championship in 11 years.
“When I decide to hang it up when I feel like I can’t win anymore, then that will be it,” Woods said. “But I feel like I can still do it, and I feel like I still have the hands to do it, the body’s moving good enough. I’ve been in worse situations and played and won tournaments. Now, I haven’t been in situations like this where I’ve had to walk and endure what I’m going to try and endure, that’s going to be different. It’s a different challenge.”
Woods’ potential return has only added excitement to the Masters, which had limited patrons the previous two years because of COVID-19 restrictions. On Monday, thousands of fans followed Woods, Thomas and Fred Couples while they played the first nine.
“You can feel it,” Jon Rahm said. “A lot of it is Tiger. Because I was playing with Tony Finau on the front nine [Monday]. We were about four or five holes ahead. We were on 7, and they were walking down on 2, and I’ve never seen a mass this big, even on a Sunday in contention, on those two holes.”
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Woods in the mix to win this weekend, even after everything he has endured and his long layoff from competition.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” McIlroy said. “I’ve spent a little bit of time with him at home, and the golf is there. He’s hitting it well. He’s chipping well. He’s sharp. It’s just the physical demand of getting around 72 holes here this week. That’s probably the question mark. But the golf game is there. So, would I be surprised? No, I’m not surprised at anything he does anymore.”