Tiger Woods still cannot believe he is lining up alongside 86 others to compete for the Green Jacket at the Augusta Masters, which begins on Thursday at the Augusta National Golf Course.
The American was unsure if he will ever play competitive golf again just six months back, but he is now being considered among the favorites to win the Masters Tournament following a successful comeback since the start of the year.
Woods has undergone four surgeries thus far with the latest being under 12 months ago in 2017. He made his comeback on the PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance at the start of the year, and has since played five events, which has included tied second place finish at the Valspar Championships and tied fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The 42-year-old is making his first major appearance since missing the cut at the 2015 US PGA Championships, while his last win came at the US Open in 2008. He has missed three of the last four Masters Tournaments due to injury, but confirmed that he is finally playing without any pain in his back.
Woods played two practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday and received rave reviews from playing partner Fred Couples, who revealed that it was like watching the American from 10-years ago, when he was dominating the sport.
“I thought prior to surgery, I’ll have a nice comfortable life but I’ll never swing a club like I used to,” Woods was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. “But all of a sudden my body and speed and timing are back.”
“For some reason, I don’t have any pain. Yes I’m much tighter and I have to work on strength in different ways but I’m hitting speeds I hit in my prime.”
“We have worked on what body parts to get stronger, what body parts need to be more limber, and I feel fantastic. It’s just a matter of now going out there and competing and playing and posting numbers,” he said.
“The swing numbers are still up and that part is exciting because if I can maintain this I can play for a long time.”
The 14-time major winner, who is looking to close in on Jack Niclaus’ record of 18 major titles, played down expectations after a number of former and current players backed him to win his first Masters Tournament since 2005.
Sir Nick Faldo recently stated that if Woods wins in Augusta, it will be considered as the greatest comeback in sports history. But the American golf icon was quick to make it clear that there are a number of contenders for the Green Jacket.
Woods is no stranger to entering a tournament with massive expectations and is aware that much of the spotlight will be on him once the event gets underway on Thursday. He is keen to focus on his game, which has seemed to be the best it has been in recent years, and hope he can end up top of the pile come Sunday evening.
“Well, I have four rounds to play, so let’s just kind of slow down,” Woods added. “I’ve had anticipation like this prior. If you remember the build up from the PGA of 2000 to the Masters of 2001, nine months of building up what that tournament would mean. And it’s the same thing.”
“I’ve got to go play and then let the chips fall where they may, and hopefully I end up on top.”
“I don’t think there’s one clear-cut favourite,” the American said. “I think there’s so many guys playing well at the same time. I think that’s what is making this year’s Masters so exciting. There are guys from the early 20s to Phil at 47 that have all played well.”
“We know we’re going to have to play well in order to win, and it’s going to be quite a challenge. It’s going to be fun.”