For Tiger Woods, the mission hasn’t changed when he competes in the Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods has been playing at Augusta National Golf Club long enough that he remembers his first trip down Magnolia Lane in darkness in 1995.

During his Masters debut, he stayed at the Crow’s Nest, the intimate accommodations for amateur champions in the white antebellum clubhouse, and watched Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen hit the opening tee shot on Thursday morning.

Just two years later, Woods won his first of five Green Jackets in record fashion and set the menu for the Champions Dinner, and smiled at the memory of watching the three legendary champions “drinking my milkshakes.”

For Woods, the mission hasn’t change. He’d like to win a sixth Green Jacket at the 88th Masters and tie Jack Nicklaus for the most career victories at the Masters, pick up his 16th career major championship and 83rd official PGA Tour title to break a tie with Snead for the most victories in a career.

2024 Masters
2024 Masters

Tiger Woods follows his shot from the No. 8 tee during a practice round for the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Network)

“If everything comes together, I can get one more,” he said of the Green Jacket during his Tuesday pre-tournament press conference.

Woods, 48, hasn’t played in a Tour event since he withdrew after hitting his tee shot at the seventh hole of the Genesis Invitational, citing illness, in February. A day earlier he complained of back spasms. On Tuesday, he gave his first explanation for why he elected to skip the Florida Swing and entered this year’s Masters with only one full competitive round under his belt.

“I wasn’t ready to play. My body wasn’t ready. My game wasn’t ready,” he said. “I thought that when I (played in the Bahamas 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.”

Tiger Woods: “If everything comes together, I can get one more”

Woods paid a visit to Augusta National a week earlier for a scouting trip with Justin Thomas and played with his longtime friend and business partner, Rob McNamara, and Masters chairman Fred Ridley. He walked the front nine on Sunday with three clubs, played the back nine Monday with Will Zalatoris and the front nine with Thomas and past Masters champion Fred Couples.

“He said his back is doing OK. I think last year it was so bad that a lot of things just wore him down,” said Couples, referencing how Woods withdrew Saturday before the third round of the 2023 Masters began after making the 36-hole cut for the 23rd consecutive time, tying a record held by Couples and Gary Player.

“Can he win here? You know what, yeah. I just watched him play nine holes, and nine holes is only nine holes on a Tuesday, but he never mis-hits a shot,” Couples said. “But the idea of making a cut, I think he would laugh at that because he’s not here to – that’s a huge record, but he’s here to win. He’s here to play really, really hard.”

Woods had his right ankle fused shortly after last year’s Masters, an injury that forced him to miss the remaining three majors last year and not play again until the Hero World Challenge. Woods was asked several times for updates on the health of his body, which already had endured countless surgeries before he was involved in a single-car crash in February 2021 that nearly resulted in the amputation of his right leg.

2024 Masters
2024 Masters

Tiger Woods tees off on No. 3 during a practice round for the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

“I hurt every day,” he said. “I ache every day. And I prefer it warm and humid and hot. And I know we’re going to get some thunderstorms. So at least it will be hot. It won’t be like last year.”

Woods has said repeatedly that his body won’t be able to withstand playing more than once a month and it is still to be seen if it can withstand walking four straight days on the hilliest and arguably most difficult walk on Tour.

“Tiger is Tiger, he’s different than all of us but it’s hard to do this when you’re not playing all the time,” said past U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, who is serving as an ESPN commentator this week. “It’s really different when you don’t do this week in, week out, it really is.”

“There’s no doubt he’s going to hit a lot of good shots, and there’s no doubt he’s going to make some putts, but can he sustain that over two, three, four days?” said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, who is also commentating for ESPN.

Strange said the uncertainty of Woods’s health has him wondering if he’s shifting into a role of becoming a ceremonial golfer, a role that Arnold Palmer eventually accepted, and Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson resisted for as long as possible.

“It didn’t matter what he shot,” Strange said of Palmer. “It didn’t matter about the shots he hit. We just kind of wanted him there, and I think the world thinks the same thing about Tiger.”

“I can’t see him finishing 50th every week and being happy,” Ogilvy added.

When the subject of becoming a Masters starter and simply hitting the opening tee shot to the tournament was broached to Woods during his press conference, he was quick to shoot it down.

“No, I have not thought about being a starter here, no,” he said to a roomful of chuckles.

When the reporter attempted to rephrase his question and asked how Woods would handle the situation in the future when he didn’t feel as if he could still another Green Jacket, Woods refused to consider the scenario.

“Well, I still think they can. So I don’t know when that day is, when that day comes, but I still think that I can. I haven’t got to that point where I don’t think I can.”

Woods begins his 26th Masters on Thursday at 1:24 p.m. ET alongside Jason Day and Max Homa, and as Couples noted, “the last thing he’s thinking about is making the cut.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek