Tiger Woods Is Optimistic on Eve of Masters, But Reps Have Been Few

The five-time winner at Augusta hasn't been able to play once a month as he had planned, but a fellow Masters champ said Woods looks strong.
Apr 9, 2024; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Tiger Woods follows his shot from the no. 8 tee during a
Apr 9, 2024; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Tiger Woods follows his shot from the no. 8 tee during a / Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Network

AUGUSTA, Ga. — His game wasn’t ready a month ago, so Tiger Woods skipped playing in a Florida golf tournament, like he admitted he hoped to do at one point at the beginning of the year.

Things change, and that wasn’t possible, but Woods is here now, at the place where he’s won five times and created numerous memories, several of which he recounted during a news conference on Tuesday at Augusta National.

Following a nine-hole practice round with Justin Thomas and Fred Couples, Woods acknowledged that “I ache. I ache every day.” But he did not discount his abilities, either.

“If everything comes together, I think I can get one more,” Woods said when asked what he believed he was capable of this week at the Masters. Then, smiling, he said: “Do I need to describe that any more than that, or are we good?”

Everyone knew what he meant.

Tiger Woods plays Augusta National prior to the 2024 Masters.
Tiger Woods played nine holes Tuesday with Justin Thomas and Fred Couples. / Katie Goodale, Katie Goodale / USA TODAY

Woods is almost never going to admit anything less than trying to win, and his good look in practice won’t quell any such hype going into this 26th Masters start, where he has a chance to set a tournament record he shares with Gary Player and Couples and make a cut for the 24th consecutive time.

But he’s played just 24 holes of official golf this year and after withdrawing from the Genesis Invitational during the second round due to the flu, his plans to add a tournament in Florida did not materialize.

“Well, I wasn't ready to play,” Woods said. “My body wasn't ready. My game wasn't ready. And I thought that when I was at Hero (in December), once a month would be a really nice rhythm. Hasn't worked out that way. But now we have major championships every month from here through July. So now the once-a-month hopefully kicks in.”

Asked specifically what kept him from playing, Woods said: “The body's just—the things that just flare up. Again, the training that we have to do at home, it changes from day-to-day basis. Some days I just feel really good, and other days, not so much.”

A few weeks after withdrawing from the Masters during a delay in the third round last year, Woods had surgery on his right ankle, a subtalar fusion, which put him out of competition for the rest of the regular season but brought some stability to the area.

Woods suffered numerous injuries to his leg, ankle and foot in the February 2021 car crash that has kept him from playing more than seven times worldwide in the aftermath.

“Well, the ankle doesn't hurt anymore,” he said. “It's fused. It's not going anywhere. So that's fine. It's other parts of my body that now have to take the brunt of it. So, yeah, once he put the rods in there, it's good to go.

“But, the back, the knee, other parts of the body have to take the load of it, and just the endurance capability of walking a long time and being on my feet for a long time.”

Since winning the Masters here in 2019 for his 15th major title, Woods has not been a contender, finishing well back during his title defense in 2020, missing the event in 2021 due to the car crash, remarkably making the cut in 2022 but shooting a pair of weekend 78s to finish 47th and then withdrawing last year.

Making the task more difficult is Augusta National itself.

“It's certainly one of the more hillier walks that we have,” Woods said. “You just don't realize it. And where the clubhouse is perched to the bottom of 12 green, we're playing on a hillside, and we're just meandering back and forth across that hillside.

“So it is a long walk. I think I've done just over six and a half miles here. But I think that it's—more than anything, it's the shaping of shots. These are things that I can't simulate in Florida. We're pretty flat. So I try the best I can on certain hillsides back at home to hit shots. But you just got to come out here and do it.

“Then, on top of that, playing on bent (grass) and the movement of these greens, that is something that, because I haven't played a whole lot on Tour, I don't really get a chance to see that very often. I'm home on Bermuda all the time. And so that's another factor into this week.”

None of it seemed to bother Woods in his limited practice this week. He’s been on the course for three days, playing nine holes on Monday and Tuesday and walking the front nine on Sunday while just chipping and putting.

Couples, 64, is making his 39th Masters start. The 1992 champion has played numerous practice rounds with Woods here and liked what he saw.

“I don't stare at his gait much, but he just hits it so good. He hit a tree there, so I actually outdrove him on No. 9, but the sound of the ball—I said, good swing, and he hit it fat and it hit off the front of the ninth green and it trickled down ...

“So I know the deal. The lie is below your feet. It's just hard. He said his back is doing O.K. I think last year it was so bad that a lot of things just wore him down, playing in that rain, moving around slowly, sluggish. The tee times where maybe he couldn't get work done, and we were out here and doing all that.

“But this year he looks strong, and he's excited to play, and I think he looks really, really good.”

In a news conference that lasted 24 minutes, Woods did not get any questions about his role on the PGA Tour Policy Board and his recent visit with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund of Saudia Arabia which backs LIV Golf.

Jon Rahm, the defending Masters champion who is now with LIV, did get asked about the state of affairs and said at one point: “I still love the PGA Tour and I still hope for the best and I still hope that at some point I can compete there again.”

Rahm said that he hoped his move to LIV might hasten some sort of agreement but said “unfortunately it’s not up to me.”

Woods was also asked about the U.S. Ryder Cup captaincy, a decision that is well past the usual time it would be announced for the 2025 competition at Bethpage Black.

“We’re still talking about it,” said Woods, who has previously stated it was too soon to discuss due to his role on the policy board. He noted that he would be speaking to Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America, whose organization determines the captain.

“It's something that Seth and I are going to sit back and talk about it after this event,” he said. “I said I'm going to be busy for a couple weeks, so let me focus on getting through this week and hopefully getting another jacket, and then we can sit back and talk about it next week.”

Woods is playing the first two rounds with Jason Day and Max Homa and tees off at 1:24 p.m. on Thursday.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience covering golf, including 15 at ESPN. Bob is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods and Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry. He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Bob, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Florida.