AUGUSTA, GA — Tigermania returned to Augusta National in full force on Monday as a cagey Tiger Woods kept the golf world guessing on whether he will be in the Masters field.
The Woods watch moved into overdrive as hordes of spectators flooded into Augusta National to catch a glimpse of the 15-time major winner who has kept fans in suspense, saying on Sunday his Masters participation will be a “game-time decision.”
While Woods gave nothing away on Monday, fans will not have to wait much longer to know his decision with the 46-year-old scheduled to hold a news conference on Tuesday along with the publishing of Thursday’s first round tee times.
After two years of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) restrictions that limited the number of spectators allowed onto the grounds, the galleries were back and so was the unmistakable Augusta National buzz amplified by the sight of Woods working the fairways.
The car crash that 14 months ago had threatened to take Woods’ right leg and left him in hospital for three weeks and then confined to a hospital-type bed at home for three months seemed a distant misfortune on a picture perfect Monday.
Playing nine holes during an afternoon practice alongside good friends Fred Couples and Justin Thomas, a relaxed Woods did not have the look of a man struggling to make a decision.
Rather, he had the self-assured air of someone who had made up his mind to be on the first tee come onThursday.
While Woods was tight-lipped, one of his playing partners is certain of what will happen on Thursday.
“I hope everything keeps going Tuesday and Wednesday and I’m sure he’s going to tee it up on Thursday,” said Couples. “It’s not shocking because he’s the greatest player to ever play.”
“If he can walk around here in 72 holes, he’ll contend. He’s too good.”
Woods has always maintained that he enters every event with the mindset to win it and his fellow golfers say not even coming back from a career threatening injury has changed that approach.
“What’s impressive is Tiger won’t play here unless he thinks he can win,” said three-time major winner Padraig Harrington. “He’s not coming to wave at the crowds.”
“He’s coming to try and win the tournament.”
“It looks like he’ll tee it up, and if he does, he feels like he can win, and that’s impressive.”
FIRST TOURNAMENTIf Woods, who was noticeably limping at the end of nine holes, does commit to play it would be his first official tournament since defending his title at the 2020 Masters, played in November due to COVID-19.
As delighted as Woods clearly is to be back playing, the excitement on Monday was surpassed by the fans.
Woods won the last of his five Green Jackets in 2019.
On Monday, they lined the entire length of the fairways and were packed 10 to 15 deep around the greens, a smiling Woods soaking up the attention as the cheers echoed through the Georgia pines.
“It’s history,” one fan screamed to another, as calls of “Go Tiger, Go Tiger” followed him.
His rivals are also not writing off Woods’ participation or even him winning a sixth Green Jacket.
“I’ve learned long ago never doubt the guy,” said Australian Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion. “It’s exciting that there’s the possibility he’s going to play this week.”
“I really hope he does. I think no matter what, it would just be epic.” — Reuters