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Tiger Woods at Augusta National for Masters is ‘stuff of sporting legend’

Just by turning up to practice. Just by generating hope that he will tee it up at the Masters this Thursday, Tiger Woods has sent a massive bolt of energy through the game of golf.

Not that it was languishing in some kind of moribund torpor, in need of a wake up jolt. Anything but.

Rarely have we gone into the first men’s major of the year with more exciting young talent at the top of the sport, but this astonishing 46-year-old has always been a game changer.

Woods’ presence at Augusta this week, his attempt to come back from a potentially life-threatening car crash which nearly cost him his right leg, is the stuff of sporting legend.

It stokes interest in an already eagerly anticipated major because, as it stands, Woods is among the field of 91. He is set to play competitively for the first time since the November 2020 Masters, when he was defending champion.

Woods to make ‘game-time’ decision
We thought that epic victory of three years ago was the absolute pinnacle – a 43-year-old veteran tapping into the secret sauce one more time and finding a way to beat the world’s best with a fused back.

Now we must add to the mix the multiple metal rods and pins that hold together his right leg. It was shattered in a devastating single vehicle accident when he sped out of control in the outskirts of Los Angeles in February last year.

We thought that was the end of Woods’ astonishing career. He needed to learn to walk again; swinging a club, hitting shots, walking a course, competing – they were distant prospects. Specks on a cloudy horizon.

“He likes to prove people wrong,” Rory McIlroy astutely observed last week. And if Woods competes at Augusta this week, he will, have undoubtedly done it again.

Among the views he will have defied will be his own. It was clear in February that Woods was pretty sure the severe undulations of Augusta would come too early in his recovery.

July’s 150th Open Championship at St Andrews, where he won two of his three Claret Jugs, looked a far more realistic bet for a competitive comeback.

But now, as he assess his “game-time decision” on whether to compete at the 86th Masters, he may notch up one of the greatest victories of his extraordinary career by simply taking part.

It will be an achievement to sit alongside any of his 15 major triumphs and record-equalling 82 PGA Tour wins. This would be another massive success stemming from a level of cussed determination that has always set Woods apart.

And just turning up has never been enough for him. Woods has always been about ‘the W’ – winning.

This, though, would be a week where his appearance would be defined by hitting his first tee shot rather than sinking a final putt. The upper echelons of the leaderboard are unlikely to feature his name this time but that will not matter.

It is surely asking too much for him to challenge, even with his ultra competitive psyche. This will not be the year for a sixth Green Jacket, there is too much young talent, including a brand new world number one, for that to happen.

Scottie Scheffler, a 25-year-old from Ridgewood, New Jersey, tops the rankings after his recent Match Play success – his third win of the year – even though he has yet to post a top-three finish at a major.

This is only his third Masters, having come 19th and 18th in the two most recent tournaments. And while the 25th man to officially top golf’s charts since their 1986 inception is undoubtedly in excellent form, portents for a first Green Jacket are not overly encouraging.

Curiously, unless your name is Woods, world number one status seems to count for little on the spring time fairways of the Augusta National.

Dustin Johnson was the last top dog to triumph, but that was in the Covid rescheduled tournament of November 2020. Before that Woods was the last number one to win, when he successfully defended 20 years ago to pick up his third title.

You then have to go back a further decade to Fred Couples and the year prior to his triumph for Ian Woosnam’s success.

The Welshman has finally become a non-playing past champion this year and has often spoken about the extra confidence he brought to Augusta in 1991 having just ascended to the top of the rankings.

Maybe Scheffler will receive a similar boost, but the top of men’s golf at the moment is tightly packed with talent. Every week there are a handful of names who can go to number one if results fall for them.

The scenario surrounding this Masters is no different and the likes of Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Smith are all justifiably dreaming of donning the most coveted garment in golf.

Rahm and Morikawa – the two most recent major winners at the US Open and Open last summer – have been quiet of late but certainly possess games to prosper at Augusta.

Hovland’s ball striking and putting are made for this course but the Norwegian cannot afford to rely on a less than dependable chipping game if he is to land his first major.

Smith can putt the lights out, as he proved at the recent Players Championship while Cantlay will quietly want to atone for the scruffy finish that cost him when Woods won in 2019.

My hunch is that this could be a big week for world number seven Justin Thomas, who has four top 10s this year and every attribute for a lengthened course that features significant changes to the 11th and 15th holes.

Dustin Johnson, just behind Thomas in the rankings, is also hitting ominous form while Brooks Koepka’s major pedigree and Daniel Berger’s newly found accuracy off the tee are invaluable qualities.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama has been hampered by a neck problem and withdrew prior to the Players and then during last week’s Texas Open and Bryson DeChambeau has also struggled on his return from injury.

Frankly, though, his comeback is relative small beer. We know which return is going to dominate all our thoughts in the coming week.

For once, someone just turning up will be enough to make it a very special Masters.

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