Tiger Woods has sparked speculation that he could make a shock return to golf at next week’s Masters after it was widely reported that he has played a practice round at Augusta National.
The 15-time major champion has not played an official tournament after suffering serious leg injuries in a car crash in February 2021.
However, earlier this week, Woods was named among the 91 starters for the 2022 Masters, which begins on April 7.
And on Tuesday, Woods’ private jet was reportedly spotted landing at an airport near Augusta, which fueled social media into a frenzy that he could feature at the major.
Rumors were heightened when reports emerged that the five-time Masters winner was playing a practice round at Augusta with his son, Charlie, and world No. 7 and good friend Justin Thomas.
The PGA Tour even tweeted a photo of Woods swinging a club with the caption: “Tiger Woods is practicing today at Augusta National.”
Such news predictably garnered even more excitement, with six-time major winner Nick Faldo tweeting: “See Tiger has arrived at Augusta. If he plays, it will be off the charts and another one of the greatest moments at The Masters.”
Rory McIlroy, the four-time major champion, wouldn’t be surprised by a comeback, telling reporters Wednesday that a return would be “phenomenal” for golf, the Masters and fans.
“The sheer will and perseverance … it is incredible, and if he comes back from this again, it’s just he likes to prove people wrong. He likes to prove himself wrong,” McIlroy said at a press conference at the Valero Open in San Antonio, Texas.
“Regardless of when he does come back – whether it’s next week or a few weeks, few months down the line – he’s a wonderful addition to the game. And the game of golf is better when he’s playing and when he’s playing well.”
The Augusta course will have provided a stern test for Woods’ physical condition due to the distances and elevation changes he’d have had to traverse.
According to Golf.com, the nominal length of the course is 7,475 yards, but once the distance between holes and estimated distance walked on the greens had been added, the total distance a player might walk could be around 9,700 yards (5.51 miles).
The changes in elevation will have challenged Woods’ leg muscles, with the hilly nature of the course an obstacle players have to battle over the four days at the famous course.
Woods’ representatives have yet to respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The American has not played a round on the PGA Tour since the 2020 Masters in November of that year.
The 46-year-old has been rehabilitating in an attempt to get back on the golf course following his car crash in Los Angeles in 2021. He admitted last month that his recovery had left him feeling “frustrated.”
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Woods’ only appearance in competitive golf since the crash was in December 2021 alongside son Charlie at the PNC Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes in Florida.
And although taking to the course with his son gave him hope for the future, he also said he would not be able to play a full tour schedule.
“That will never happen again,” he said. “I can play certain events here and there, but on a full-time level, no, that will never happen again.”
CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Homero De La Fuente contributed to this report.