Tiger Woods is back at the Masters, along with his slight limp. It is not every step, every minute. But it is there. And as much hardware as he has in his mended right leg, the limp figures to be with him for as long as he plays the sport he once dominated.
As for how long he keeps playing Augusta National? That’s a little harder to foresee.
Woods conceded that each trip to the Masters — at his age (47) and with surgeries on both legs and his back over the last decade — makes him wonder if it’s going to be the last one.
“I don’t know how many more I have in me,” Woods said Tuesday.
This will be his 25th time playing the Masters, and Woods still is surprised there was a 24th. He was still recovering last year from crashing his car off a suburban Los Angeles road at over 85 mph, crushing bones in his right leg so badly he said doctors contemplated amputation.
Woods splashed out of that bunker, missed the par putt and began his halting walk to the clubhouse to sign his card.
“I didn’t give myself very good looks,” he said. “Need to do a better job of that going forward.”
Indeed, the round was hardly vintage Woods, yet the feel around Augusta National was unmistakably classic.
Patrons stacked four-, five- and sometimes six-deep for a chance to see him, then walked quickly ahead — running being strictly forbidden — to find a prime spot to see him again. They clapped politely when he’d tap in for par, roared like the old days for his three birdies, and showered him with adulation when his round was over.
At one point, after waiting an hour for Woods to come through and then watching him play an approach shot from the fairway right in front of them, one gentleman turned to his buddy and said: “Well, we can go home now.”
In fact, an hour before he teed off, Woods was seen wincing as he walked into a shallow practice bunker. All day, Woods walked past cheering patrons who lowered their voices once they saw him walking up or down a hill and noticed his gait. Murmurs followed his hesitant steps as Woods attempted to find the flatter side of Augusta’s grand hillsides and, at times, used a club as a walking stick.
Woods was struggling with his game, too, but it was tough to square his physical limitations with some of the flashes of patented greatness that he also displayed. Woods outdrove his playing partners, Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele, on the first hole. On 8, he smashed a 3-wood 250 yards and nearly holed out his chip for eagle. The back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 felt like vintage Tiger, too.
A dramatic comeback at the 2022 Masters saw Woods shock many by making the cut, but his physical struggles to navigate a hilly Augusta terrain were evident, compounded by surgery that had put a rod and pins in his right leg.
One year on, he closed his opening round hopping on his left leg after an awkward escape shot from a bunker at the 18th hole. Quizzed on the condition of his leg after his round, Woods was candid.
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