The first Masters practice round at Augusta National got underway on Monday, and the crowds following Tiger Woods could easily deceive the casual fan to believe the tournament had officially begun.
Don’t be fooled, that’s just the Tiger effect.
Until a week ago, Woods was not expected to compete at golf’s biggest event. The five-time Masters winner was involved in a car accident in February 2021 that left him with serious leg injuries and reportedly the possibility of amputation.
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The 46-year-old recovered, but as recently as this past November, he said he would never compete full-time again.
Then, the rumblings started. Speculation arose last week as reports emerged that showed a private plane traveling from Stuart, Florida, to Augusta, Georgia, paired with video evidence that he had been playing back home in Florida the weekend before.
As a former champion, Woods has lifetime admission into the tournament. While other former greats such as Phil Mickelson confirmed they would not participate in the upcoming Masters, Woods' name remained on the list, only adding fuel to the fire.
In the week since, Woods has continued to prepare as if he is competing but said whether he chooses to participate will be a “game-time decision.”
If Monday’s showing is any indication, Woods — and the fans — are ready to compete.
According to reports at the course, what was once believed to be an impossibility is looking more and more like a reality by the minute.
Woods’ entourage included Fred Couples, 1992 winner of the Masters, and Justin Thomas, a 28-year-old whose best finish at the tournament came in 2020 when he finished fourth.
In some ways, a comeback at Augusta National is familiar territory for Woods.
He won 14 major championships from 1997 to 2008, including four Masters victories from 1997 to 2005. This stretch of dominance was then followed by an 11-year dry spell that famously included a number of personal scandals.
In 2019, Woods won his fifth green jacket at Augusta National, an accomplishment that was generally celebrated across sports.