For Tiger, a walk in wait awaits someone else at the Masters

Augusta, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods’ 91st competitive round at the Masters will begin like everyone else.

At around 10:34 a.m. on Thursday, the five-time champion will stick his tee in the field at Tee Olive, the name of the first hole at Augusta National, take some practice swings and continue a familiar walk that began a quarter-century ago.

It’s when Woods sticks his driver back in his bag that will determine whether his right leg is surgically reconstructed — or for that matter the rest of the 46-year-old Hall of Famer — any other test. The opposite is ready for testing. His profession

The five-mile or more walk between Georgia pines at Augusta National is more than 11,000 steps up and down and back again. This requires hitting shots from uneven lies. Digging in pine straw if necessary. To try to peak over bunkers that can go so deep – as on the par-3 fourth hole – you have to jump if you’re going to see the flag.

None other than Jack Nicklaus has navigated the vast course as well as Woods. No active player is as adept at drawing every inch of perfectly manicured Bermuda grass.

That’s why Woods wasn’t complaining when he said Tuesday “running is the hard part.” He is merely stating a fact. And he’s hardly the only one who knows how physically tough competition can be at the Masters.

Two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange walked out of the tournament with a shin splint. And Strange didn’t have to, shivering when he sees you coming around the corner, working with a foot full of rod and plate metal detectors.

“You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it’s a tough challenge and a challenge that I’m up for,” Woods said.

At least in theory. He has not played 18 holes in consecutive days at Augusta National because of a shredding H leg in a car accident in February 2021, which caused doctors to consider amputation. Now he’s seeking the same stage that stashed up to four rounds in the span of 81 or so hours to hit 15 major championships and a PGA Tour record-tying 82 victories.

It also doesn’t include a warm-up or recovery, routine that requires far more time than making your way to your first green jacket 25 years ago.

This is asking a lot. Yes, it’s running now. This is no ordinary walk. And this is no ordinary week. For Woods or anyone else.

“I think the most stress we have is probably more mental than physical,” said world No. 1 Scotty Scheffler, born at age 25, less than a year before Woods won his first Masters title. Was.

The tension is no longer between Woods’ ears, but under his feet. The change in altitude from your opening shot is almost constant. First down the hill to the fairway, then back to the green. Down a hill again at number 2. Rolling terrain at number 3. An elevated T at No. Almost all the way up to number 7. Ditto number 8. Climb the turn at number 9.

The last nine is a rumble. The 10th fairway can double as a ski slope. Another trek to Amen Corner in 11th place. There is some relief in 12th and 13th. The mounds and a slanted fairway on the 14th where a flat lie is basically a myth. A gentle downhill for the 15th green. The 16th provides a respite, one last climb back to the clubhouse before the 17th tee begins.

Woods admits that his mobility is so limited that he abandoned Nike cleats for the FootJoy because it provided more comfort. He’s hoping he’ll be helped by a jolt of adrenaline by the first capacity crowd to arrive at Augusta since his Titanic win in 2019.

Still, golf is golf. Throw in the Crucible that the Masters and Woods knows that adversity is inevitable. He insisted that he would not return just to be a field filler. That’s just not his way. He’s not going to just ask his leg to help him get around, but to stand on the 18th green on Sunday afternoon and ask Hideki Matsuyama to wrap the sixth green jacket over his shoulders.

It seems impossible. It may very well be impossible.

“When I decide to hang it up when I feel like I can’t win anymore, that’s what it will be,” he said. “But I think I can still do it, and I feel like I still have the hands to do it, the body is going pretty well. I’ve been in worse conditions and I’ve played and won tournaments “

Yes and no. He originally won the 2008 US Open on one leg at Torrey Pines. Yet he was only 32 then. He’s closer to 60 now than that glorious Father’s Day weekend at Sun’s Back Home in California.

The soul remains ready. This is the first time he dipped inside the ropes at Augusta as an amateur in 1995.

It’s the rest of him, especially the right ankle, that will have to bear so much weight—including the intrinsic and extrinsic expectations that come about when your name is Tiger Woods—that will determine whether this long walk will get worse.

“I don’t have to worry about the ball striking or the game of golf, it’s really the hills here,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s going to be the challenge of a major marathon.”

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