Masters preview: Even with a bad leg, Tiger Woods has everyone on his tail

He’s back: Five-time Masters winner and 15-time Major Champion Tiger Woods will be on the course Thursday morning at Augusta National, and not in a ceremonial role.

“Well, as of right now, I feel like I’m going to play,” Woods said Tuesday after his practice round. “My recovery has been good. I’ve been very excited about how I’ve recovered each and every day. That’s been the challenge, that’s why I came up here and tested out for 27 holes.”

It’s been 14 months the since the horrific car accident that resulted in a shattered ankle and compound fractures in each leg.

“It’s been a tough, tough, year and a lot of stuff I’ve had to deal with that I don’t wish on anyone,” Woods said. “But here we are: Masters week. And to be able to play and practice.”

Returning to Augusta National means a reunion with longtime competitors turned supporters over the last year.

“For me more importantly just to say thank you to all the guys that have texted me, face-timed me, called me, given me all of their support,” Woods said. “To see them in person and to say thank you. That has meant a lot.”

It also means a lot to compete on golf’s biggest stage, and the five-time winner of the Green Jacket is confident in his chances this weekend.

“I can hit it just fine. I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. Walking is the hard part,” Woods said. “This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the condition my leg is in, it’s going to be more difficult. You know, 72 holes is a long road. It’s going to be a tough challenge and a challenge I’m up for.”

Tiger Woods has made 22 cuts in 23 starts at the Masters, only missing the weekend in 1996 when he was still an amateur. Yet he’s finished out of the top 30 in three of his last tournaments at Augusta National dating back to 2012.

But would you bet against this man? Tiger tees off Thursday at 10:34 a.m. You should watch.

Other major contenders

Defending champ Hideki Matsuyama (10:56 a.m. First Round tee-time):

On the green: Two wins and four top 10 finishes since last Labor Day, and he can win at Augusta.

In the rough: Only three guys have repeated as champ (Nicklaus, Faldo, and Woods). Nice try …

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler (10:56 a.m.):

On the green: He’s won twice in the last month (Arnold Palmer Invitational, World Match Play).

In the rough: The Masters is the only Major where he doesn’t have a top 10 finish (T19, T18).

Odds-on favorite Jon Rahm (1:41 p.m.):

On the green: The 2021 U.S. Open winner has posted four straight top tens in this event.

In the rough: Tying for 55th at the Players Championship? The “Fifth Major” isn’t a major, but still …

British Open champ Colin Morikawa (1:30 p.m.):

On the green: He’s won twice in his last six Major appearances.

In the rough: Morikawa missed the cut at the Players. This “fifth major” is like the “fifth Beatle.” Whatever.

2020 Masters winner Dustin Johnson (1:30 p.m.):

On the green: The South Carolina native has five top tens in his last six trips to Augusta National.

In the rough: Just one top 20 finish this season and a missed cut at the Genesis. Turn it on, turn it on again?

2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth (1:52 p.m.):

On the green: The 28-year old has five top-three finishes in the Masters.

In the rough: He’s won just once on the tour since his 2017 British Open victory.

2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas (10:45 a.m.):

On the green: Six top 10 finishes in eight starts this season, including a 3rd at the Valspar last month.

In the rough: His only top 10 Masters finish came in 2020-does it count if it happens in the fall?

Four-time Major champ Rory McIlroy (2:03 p.m.):

On the green: Six top tens here since 2014. And he’s due (hasn’t won a Major since 2014).

In the rough: Only five guys have won the Career Grand Slam for a reason. It’s tough.

Four-time Major champ Brooks Koepka (2:03 p.m.):

On the green: He shines in the spotlight as four of his eight wins on tour have been at a Major.

In the rough: He’s missed five cuts in his last 10 tournaments entered.

2020 U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau (10:23 a.m.):

On the green: He’s a former Low Amateur here, and they fare well (see below).

In the rough: He’s posted just a pair of top tens in 19 career Majors.

2022 Players Championship winner Cameron … is it Smith?

On the green: He also won the Sentry Tournament of Champions and tied for 2nd at the 2020 Masters.

In the rough: Be careful if you’re betting as there are multiple “Camerons” in the field:

  • Young is 18th on the money list but is making his Masters debut.
  • Davis has never played the Masters and shares a name with a “Days of Our Lives” character.
  • Champ is not quite that yet, ranking 220th on the money list with missed five cuts in eight tournaments.

Other notables

Early birds: Two-time winner Jose Maria Olazabal and J.J. Spaun (qualified Sunday with a win at the Valero Texas Open) comprise the first pairing with an 8 a.m. tee-time. One or both of them will be the first “leader” Thursday.

Amateur hour: Keita Nakajima, Aaron Jarvis, James Piot, Stewart Hagestad, Austin Greaser and Laird Shepherd are the nonprofessionals in the field this year. The best finish for an amateur at the Masters was Ken Venturi placing second in 1956, and the best finish this century was Ryan Moore’s tying for 13th in 2005. The Low Amateur has gone on to win the green jacket as a professional seven times: Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Sergio García and Hideki Matsuyama. So keep your eyes out this weekend for recent Low Amateurs Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland and … Bryson DeChambeau?

Former” Former Champions: The Masters offers up a lifetime exemption for winners, meaning a champ can continue to tee off into his 60s or 70s. They often blow up on the first day and miss the cut. Three champs from the 1980s are in this field: Larry Mize, Sandy Lyle and Bernard Langer. Fred Couples (1992) and Jose Maria Olazabal (1994, 1999) aren’t far behind. Of course, Tiger Woods (1997) is going to be in that group one of these days — but not yet.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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