AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The buzz quickly built as Tiger Woods finished chipping a sack of balls, punched Bubba Watson and headed to the practice tee to hit a handful of easy shots. Minutes later, he emerged from the clubhouse lawn to rapturous applause as thousands of fans thronged with phones in the air desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the unfolding golf history in front of them.
On a gorgeous day at Augusta National, the greatest sight of all might have been seeing Woods standing on the first tee again with a driver in hand.
It was certainly to a group of four female golfers from the University of Virginia who got close enough to the tee to take a sort of selfie with Woods in the distance behind them. They let out a shout and the fans crowded 30 around the tee and all the way down the first fairway shouting in delight.
Meanwhile, defending Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama passed near the first tee almost unnoticed. It was Tiger’s day, just like it’s Tiger’s tournament, and if anyone thought otherwise, they must have been in the merchandise store shopping for souvenirs instead.
Yes, it was just Monday. But, aside from the blue shirt Woods was wearing, it felt like a Sunday afternoon.
He may be No. 973 in the world, but Woods is still No. 1 at Augusta National, where he won his first major 25 years ago and has won four more Green Jackets since – including an unlikely triumph in 2019 that only Woods himself could surpass.
This one was magic. Just playing in this one borders on unbelievable.
Yet the questions continue. The slight limp with which Woods walked up the steep hill of the first hole enticed him even more.
Will he be there again for a Masters opening tee shot on Thursday? Will the greatest player of his time’s latest comeback be the greatest comeback of his career as he continues to recover from a car accident that almost took his leg and could very well have cost life?
No one outside of Woods’ inner circle is suggesting that. But the odds are getting better every day.
Woods himself called it a “game decision” in a weekend tweet that hinted more at “yes” than “no.” He played the back nine on Sunday, then returned on Monday afternoon for the front nine when fans were first allowed onto the course.
Walking four days in a row on a course that is difficult enough for players with two good legs to navigate might be overkill. But anyone who remembers how Woods won the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 on a bad leg knows enough not to count it.
And his fellow pros think he’ll at least try.
“I would be surprised if it was someone else who ever lived,” Max Homa said Monday. “So, no, I’m not surprised. I am amazed. It’s a true testament to his work ethic as we all know what he does on the golf course, how hard he works, and the stories and legend. “
“It’s a major championship. This is Augusta,” added Brooks Koepka. “No matter how much you suffer, you find a way. He will find a way. If anyone can do it, he can.
The fact that it’s been just over 13 months since Woods crashed his SUV in California until his return to the Masters is, indeed, remarkable. But Woods is a notorious hard worker and it’s not the first comeback in a career that has been derailed at different times by various injuries and marital issues.
The odds are stacked against him – he’s 80-1 in Las Vegas to win – but the odds of him getting to that point would have been astronomical after he broke his leg.
Woods said a few months ago that his broken right leg was different from his left leg. But the most important thing right now is what his game looks like and watching Woods practice before his nine holes on Monday was eerily similar to the Woods of old.
Still, the unknowns loom, both for Woods or anyone considering trying to make some money off his long odds.
Will he leave on Thursday? If he does, can he make the cut? Will his leg hold up to four days of walking on a much hillier golf course than it looks on TV?
All good questions, even if the most important has already been answered.
“He’s here, isn’t he? said Bryson DeChambeau. “I guess it’s already a comeback.”
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected] or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.