June 21, 2024
Tiger Woods

Everything we know about Tiger’s chances of appearing in golf’s first major of 2024 after he was spotted at Augusta National
Tiger Woods can play Augusta any time he likes. His visit on Saturday with Florida chum Justin Thomas and Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley was not a social round. Woods doesn’t do social golf. He was preparing for his 26th appearance at the Masters next week.

As a past champion, a record five times no less, Woods is automatically qualified to play in what remains an invitational event. Protocol requires past winners to inform the tournament if they are withdrawing. Woods has given no such undertaking. That, coupled with Saturday’s recce, can be taken as assurance of his participation.

What’s the latest on his injuries?
In the past, no matter what his physical condition after a series of surgeries to knee and back, Woods would insist he was coming for the win. Indeed, he achieved arguably the greatest of his Masters victories in 2019 after a spinal fusion operation. However, he has played only five tournaments since the crash in February 2021 which almost cost him his right leg.

Though he made the cut at the Masters a year ago, he was forced to withdraw during the third round, clearly in discomfort. He did complete four rounds at the Hero World Challenge in December and teed it up at the Genesis Invitational in February, where he was forced to withdraw as a result of flu.

Why is Woods playing a big deal?

Tiger Woods
It is five years since Woods celebrated his victory at the 2019 Masters (Photo: Getty)

Tiger Woods remains the game’s ultimate reference point. Whenever he tees it up engagement in golf increases. And that has never been more important for a sport suffering the consequences of almost two years of division following the departure of many of the leading names to LIV Golf. Viewing figures are down significantly with fans frustrated at the lack of star names competing at the traditional events on the PGA Tour.

Tiger Woods is himself at the centre of attempts to bring to a conclusion the talks between the PGA Tour and LIV’s Saudi backers to unify the sport under one administration. The hope is that a deal will include a way back to the PGA Tour on a regular basis for the likes of Masters champion Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Kopeka and Bryson DeChambeau. Until then the four majors are the only tournaments that will see the best players in the world compete against each other.

That in itself ramps anticipation ahead of the first major of the season. Add the name of Woods to the mix and interest spikes still further.

Does he have any chance of competing on Sunday?
His record suggest he will at least be in the field come Sunday. Woods has missed the cut only once, and never as a professional. He went home early in 1996 when he competed as an amateur. The following year, aged 21, Woods returned to win the first of his 15 major titles by a record 12 strokes. And this after taking 40 strokes to complete the front nine on the opening day.

Should he make the cut for the 24th time next week, Woods will stand alone in the Augusta annals, one clear of Gary Player and his great friend Freddie Couples, with whom he shares the current record of 23 consecutive cuts.

The limited exposure to tournament golf following an injury that could have cost him a limb or even his life, would ordinarily count against a golfer, but such is the power of the Woods brand, fuelled by a track record of improbable successes, the idea that Woods might win a sixth jacket is not completely wild.

He did, after all, win the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines with a fractured leg that required surgery the following week, as well as the incredible result at the Masters five years ago achieved with a back that he couldn’t bend.

The Florida telegraph has been humming with reports of Woods’ peerless ball-striking. Technically he arguably retains the tools to succeed. Testing them in competitive conditions at a big, physically demanding course of epic elevation changes is the issue. But few have walked the golfing walk like Tiger Woods.

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