It’s only a little over a year ago that Tiger Woods was having profound conversations with his medical team over whether they could save his right leg. In Florida on Wednesday, those discussions had undergone a truly remarkable transformation: am I good to go, doc, for the Masters?
Talk about the sportsman who won’t quit. Five back operations, five knee operations plus numerous surgeries to rebuild that right leg following his horrific near-fatal car smash in Los Angeles 13 months ago.
And still Tiger, now aged 46, flew to Augusta National on Monday with his son Charlie for a practice round to see if he could walk the walk once more, on some of the most difficult terrain in the sport.
Tiger Woods – after his memorable triumph in 2019 – is eyeing up Augusta National once again
Woods has had numerous surgeries to rebuild that right leg following his horrific near-fatal car smash in Los Angeles 13 months ago
When you’re talking Tiger miracles, you’re talking about sporting moments up there with the best of them. Winning the US Open in 2008 with a torn anterior crucial ligament and a broken tibia. Winning the 2019 Masters, a year after being in such discomfort at the Champions Dinner with his back he had to eat standing up.
Given where he was on that fateful February day in the Hollywood Hills last year though, if he makes it to the first tee for the 86th Masters next Thursday, there are considerable grounds for believing this will be the most astounding Tiger feat of all.
He’s clearly close, we can safely assume that. There’s no way Tiger flies from Florida a week before the Masters just to give his golf-mad son his first experience of playing 18 holes at one of the cathedrals of the game.
How poetic that the man waiting for him and Charlie on the practice ground at Augusta was his close friend and near neighbour, Justin Thomas.
The personable American was close to tears on a couple of occasions last year as he detailed visits to see a bed-ridden Tiger, as the latter underwent another long and painful stint of rehab.
The rebuilding of Woods’ shattered right leg
Let’s not forget that, just a month before his car accident, Tiger had undergone a fifth microdiscectomy procedure on his back.
Even Woods didn’t know if he had the heart and the will to try to play at the highest level again. Last December in the Bahamas, at an exhibition tournament he hosts, he spoke movingly about the long road ahead, with little conviction in his voice that he was up to it.
At the time, it was an understandable reaction. After all the months of not being able to move and uncertainty as to whether he could enjoy any sort of quality of life again, it was hardly surprising that resuming his career was at the back of his thoughts.
Woods’ private jet was spotted landing in Augusta and he is listed as an ‘active competitor’
But then the genes of the man who won’t quit kicked in. Two days in a tournament environment was all it took before he was spotted on the range hitting shots into the ether and then leaning on a cart, to help with the pain from his leg.
For a right-handed golfer, it’s the right leg that has to be perfectly stable at the top of the backswing to let everything unfold on the downswing. For Tiger, his right leg had to heal sufficiently on top of that to be able to walk five miles a day, every day — and that’s before the question of whether his back could cope.
Last December, the soft contours of St Andrews for the 150th Open in July seemed a hopeful target. The severe undulations of Augusta appeared out of the question.
The legend pulled on the Green Jacket in 2019 but has not played competitively in 18 months
Even in February, while on hosting duties once more at the Genesis Invitational, he played down his chances. ‘I can walk on a treadmill as long as I want but walking on a golf course and hitting shots is totally different and I haven’t tried that yet,’ he said.
He’s tried it now. He tried it last week during several rounds in Florida. And he tried it at the ultimate test on Monday, the place where he has a history like no other.
Twenty-five years after he won the first Masters he competed in as a pro — by just the 12 shots — is Woods about to give his sport the shot in the arm that only he can?
Twenty-five years after his first Masters win, is Woods about to give golf the shot in the arm that only he can?
It’s fair to say the American sporting world is gripped by the possibility. The New York Post cleared its entire back page on Wednesday to bring the news of Tiger and his Augusta practice round.
After the grotesque saga of Phil Mickelson and the nauseating circuit proposed by the Saudi sportwashers, this prodigious tale of the journey back from hell for the man who played the game better than anyone has ever played it feels, on every level, like a gift from the gods.
Am I good to go, doc, for the Masters? With an announcement from the Tiger camp thought likely over the next 48 hours, let’s keep everything crossed.