Tiger Woods' playing days at the Masters are numbered: 'I don't know how many more I have in me'
AUGUSTA, Ga. — It seems sacrilegious to say Tiger Woods isn’t a legitimate contender to win the Masters. He is, after all, Tiger Woods. That was the general impression however that came Tuesday from no less of an authority on the subject than Tiger Woods himself.
No, he didn’t flat out say he couldn’t win a sixth green jacket, but he repeatedly mentioned his injured leg (from a 2021 car crash), his injured back (from general wear and tear) and his limited strength and endurance ("I just have to be cognizant of how much I can push it").
He was expansive on his stop-and-smell-the-roses mindset — “just appreciate the memories” — talked wistfully of the seniors tour (where players get to ride in a cart) and expressed gratitude that he still had both of his legs.
He even brought up the idea that his Masters playing days may be numbered.
“I don't know how many more I have in me,” Tiger said Tuesday at Augusta National.
This was a far cry from the uber-confident competitor who changed this tournament and this sport in unimaginable ways. That Tiger wouldn’t have tolerated even the hint that he was just here to play, not win.
Reality is reality, though, and maybe as jarring as some of his comments was the tone in which he delivered them — not resigned and moribund, but in a fairly upbeat session with the media in advance of Thursday’s opening round of his 25th Masters.
Maybe he’s playing rope-a-dope here and will, once again, stun the golfing world with his greatness. If anyone could do it …
Or maybe at age 47 and having put himself through just about every ringer imaginable — physical, mental, emotional — everything has finally changed.
“It's the appreciation of being able to play this game,” Tiger said when asked what he finds enjoyable these days. “And then to be able to come here and play at Augusta National, it's such a special place and it means so much to me in my heart to be able to come here and play this golf course and just appreciate the memories that I've had here, whether it's in competition or the practice rounds or the stories.”
The issue is simple: The leg he almost lost when his car rolled off a road in suburban Los Angeles a little over two years ago doesn't work as well. It doesn’t just impact his swing and his game, it limits the amount he can walk and practice, especially on a course known for its tall, sweeping terrain.
“I'm very lucky to have this leg; it's mine,” Tiger said. “Yes, it has been altered and there's some hardware in there, but it's still mine. It has been tough and will always be tough. The ability and endurance of what my leg will do going forward will never be the same. I understand that.
“That's why I can't prepare and play as many tournaments as I like, but that's my future, and that's OK,” he continued. “I'm okay with that.”
How much “hardware” is in there, he was asked.
“There's a lot,” he said before breaking into a laugh.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this. He is still the most popular golfer out here and will tee off Thursday morning to the largest gallery. Fans are just happy to see him do anything on a course. Every round he plays should be celebrated at this point.
It is a siren call, however, for anyone who still wants to see him play here, or anywhere on the PGA Tour: Get your tickets now because the Tiger show offers no future guarantees.
“Obviously with the accident, it's been a tough, tough road,” he said.
His biggest thrill, he said, is getting to play with his 14-year-old son, Charlie. That’s what much of his rehab was focused on, just being a father.
“The joy is different now,” he said. “I've been able to spend more time with my son, and we've been able to create our own memories out there. And to share some of the things that my dad, what I experienced with my dad, the late-night putting or practice sessions that we did at the Navy Golf Course, I'm doing with my son.
“It's incredible,” he said. “The bonding and the moments that come because of this sport. So the joy … it's different.
“I'm not able to compete and play as many tournaments or do the things I've been able to do over the years,” Tiger continued. “But to be able to still share this game and share some memories and create new memories with my son and also pass on some of the things that I've learned — I've learned a lot of things in this game, so to pass that on to him and others has been fantastic.”
When Tiger spoke of the future, it wasn’t about the tournament ahead. He seemed eager to get to 50 and join the senior tour, a proposition that once seemed to be the antithesis of his competitive nature.
“I've got three more years, where I get the little buggy and be out there with Fred [Couples],” Tiger said with a laugh. “But until then, no buggy.”
Tiger said he’s been practicing chipping and likes where parts of his game are and he will again lean on his understanding of the course. That probably isn’t going to cut it, though.
“He’s pretty banged up,” Tiger’s caddie, Joe LaCava told the New York Post. “It if wasn’t Augusta, he probably wouldn’t be playing … The injury is devastating. But if he could take a cart, he could contend tomorrow.”
There will be no cart. He’ll walk the course Thursday and Friday and hope, like last year, to make the cut into the weekend.
For now, that has to be enough. Probably forever, actually.