Tiger Woods says “as of right now I feel like I am going to play” in the Masters – and he thinks he can win it.
“I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint,” he said Tuesday at a news conference on the 25th anniversary of his historic victory at the 1997 Masters, responding to a question about whether he can win the tournament.
Woods, who has won the tournament five times, is scheduled to tee off for the first round in Augusta, Georgia, at 10:34 a.m. ET Thursday morning.
The 15-time major champion has been away from competitive golf for over a year, having suffered serious leg injuries in a car crash in February 2021.
“As of right now, I feel like I am going to play,” Woods said, ending weeks of speculation. “As of right now.”
Woods, 46, had played a few practice rounds at Augusta National, including one on Monday, which fueled rumors of a comeback.
“I’ve worked hard. My team has been unbelievable. I’ve been lucky to have had great surgeons and great PTs and physios that have worked on me virtually every day. And we’ve worked hard to get to this point … It’s been a tough, tough year,” said Woods, who had multiple surgeries to his right leg after the crash.
Woods is grouped for the first two rounds with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann of Chile. They’re scheduled to tee off the second round at 1:41 p.m. ET on Friday.
His dramatic return comes 25 years after the 1997 Masters, the first of his 15 major championships. Woods was only 21 when he transformed the game – and his life – by becoming the first nonwhite golfer to win the sports most storied tournament.
Woods said it is “hard to believe it’s been 25 years.”
“It’s great to be back and be able to feel the energy and the excitement of the patrons again.”
“Very, very thankful,” Woods said when asked by CNN’s Patrick Snell what words would he choose to reflect on the last 14 months.
“Thankful for just everyone’s support. Everyone who has been involved in my process of the work I’ve put in each and every day. The people I work with, my whole team… All the support from the players out here.”
Getting this far, he said, was a success in itself.
“Now everything is focused on how do I get myself into the position where I’m on that back nine on Sunday with a chance” to win again, Woods added.
“When I decide to hang it up, when I feel like I can’t win anymore, then that will be it,” he said. “But I feel like I can still do it, and I feel like I still have the hands to do it, the body’s moving good enough.”
Woods last won the tournament in 2019, his first victory at one of golf’s four majors in 11 years and one that had sportwriters celebrating his comeback from injury. That win followed career-saving spinal fusion surgery – his fourth back procedure (of now five).
‘Everybody needs him’
One of his playing partners seemed certain of what will happen on Thursday.
“It’s not shocking because he’s the greatest player to ever play,” Fred Couples told reporters before Woods’ announcement.
“If he can walk around here in 72 holes, he’ll contend. He’s too good.”
And 2021 FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay says Woods’ return is the “greatest thing” for golf.
“He’s a good example of life’s not always perfect, and so it’s really exciting to see him on his highs,” he told the media.
“And so I hope that he is able to tee it up this week and play well, and obviously that’s the greatest thing for our sport. There’s definitely a different feel in tournaments that he tees it up in.”
In the car crash last year in Los Angeles, Woods suffered comminuted open fractures that affected his right tibia and fibula, which are the two long bones directly under the knee.
He admitted in February this year that he was “frustrated” with his recovery and conceded he won’t be able to play a full PGA Tour schedule again. At the time, he said his right leg had been “altered” and that the hard part of tournament golf would be the walking on a course with its undulations.
Someone who knows a thing or two about coming back from serious injuries is four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.
The 31-year-old has had to endure his own share of injury concerns, missing sizable time over recent years due to surgery recovery and rehab.
And Koepka, who comes into the 2022 Masters as one of the favorites for the Green jacket, said he understands what Woods might be going through.
“I was in somewhat of his shoes trying last year two weeks after surgery. This place isn’t exactly an easy walk,” he told the media. “I understand what he’s up against. It’ll be difficult. But if anybody can do it, it’s him.”
Koepka added: “I’m happy he’s becoming healthier and able to play golf … we need him, the game needs him, everybody needs him, the fans need him, all that stuff. But at the end of the day everybody is just out here competing. I’m worried about myself and I’m sure everybody else is worried about themselves.”