It's almost April, which means it's time for a tradition unlike any other: determining whether Tiger Woods is going to tee it up at Augusta National for this year's Masters. This has unfortunately become a nearly annual event because of Woods' extensive late-career run of injuries, but there's a completely different focus on Woods this year.
From tracking private planes to rumors of Tiger shooting worst-ball scores in the mid-60s at his home course in Florida, there's nothing that hasn't been floated as a bellwether for prognosticating whether Woods was going to play in many of the last several Masters. And yet, because of his extremely private life, there is still no clear indication this time around about whether Tiger will in fact make his (latest) comeback starting with the 86th edition of an event he's now won five times.
It would be remarkable if Tiger played the Masters for myriad reasons. He hasn't teed it up at an Official World Golf Rankings event since the 2020 Masters, which took place in November of that year. Since then, he endured yet another surgery on his back as well as one of the more horrific car wrecks we've ever seen a modern athlete endure.
Woods more or less disappeared for most of 2021 before emerging from the shadows late in the year with a sleeve on his right leg and a driver in both hands. Tiger played the PNC Championship in December with his son, Charlie, and looked surprisingly lithe.
Asked if that meant a return to the PGA Tour was on deck, Woods repeatedly demurred and essentially voiced: I'll be back when I'm back.
He was again questioned about a possible return to the Masters by Jim Nantz at the 2022 Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in February and deflected Nantz's questions so many times that, at one point, he added that Nantz needed to "slow down, turbo". The questions were not out of line, nor were they irrational.
Woods has made comebacks at Augusta National before, and given how good he looked at the PNC in December -- and how much time he had to get back into playing shape -- it's feasible that he could tee it up at the first major of the year.
Late last week, it was reported that the Big Cat was stirring once again.
Have heard from multiple people in South Florida that Tiger Woods has been out walking Medalist multiple times this week. Joey was also in town to walk.— The Fried Egg (@the_fried_egg) March 27, 2022
This single report, of course, doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of the Masters or of Tiger's career. It does indicate, however, that a Masters comeback many didn't think was possible as recently as a month ago remains up in the air for the best to ever do it.
Greg DuCharme -- who used to work at Medalist, where Tiger plays -- confirmed on the First Cut podcast Sunday, that Tiger only walks Medalist (specifically with caddie Joe LaCava) when he's preparing for something meaningful, which leads me to believe that regardless of whether Tiger plays this year's Masters, he's at the very least considering it.
We likely won't know the end result here until the beginning of Masters week, which means the next seven days are going to teem with rumors upon rumors upon rumors. That will be exhausting, but if the payoff is that a 15-time major winner plays professional golf for the first time in 18 months just over a year after nearly losing one of his limbs, then perhaps the payoff will be worth it.
Tiger Woods has been spotted walking Medalist with Joe LaCava on the bag. @therealGFD thinks that means we will see Cat playing Augusta next week 🐯🌸— The First Cut Podcast (@FirstCutPod) March 28, 2022
What's flabbergasting is going back to May 2021 and trying to explain to anyone listening that Phil Mickelson, who had just stunningly won the PGA Championship, was not going to play in the 2022 Masters but Tiger, who we hadn't seen in several months and may or may not have been in a wheelchair at the time, actually might.
Mickelson's name was removed from the field list, and a source confirmed to CBS Sports that he will officially not play in the event. Tiger's name is still listed for now, although that could obviously change up until the Thursday morning when the tournament starts. Either way, he will almost certainly be there for the Tuesday evening Champions Dinner, which will be hosted by last year's winner, Hideki Matsuyama.
What does not square up is the idea that Tiger would play in a tournament he almost certainly knows he can't win. He admitted recently that it took him months and months of building up to win the 2019 Masters.
That's never really been a reality at any point in his career, but in his recent public appearances, Tiger has seemed more at peace with his career and himself than ever before. That implies there's a potential playing scenario hat he would have considered unthinkable at other points of his career. Woods might tee it up at the Masters, not because he believes he can win, but simply because he misses being there and playing in the most prestigious golf tournament in the world.
His return has, for the last 15 months, always seemed to be a speck on the horizon, a point out in front of him (and us) that didn't necessarily seem unattainable but did not feel imminent. That's the nature of car crashes involving golfers who have endured more surgeries than most folks have PGA Tour wins.
Now that we've reached the Masters -- this fully-attended April Masters, which has also seemed so far away for the past few years -- it suddenly no longer feels that way.
Tiger still might not play Augusta National this year, but there is at least hope -- a hope that has seemed enveloped in sadness and nostalgia for the past year -- that he could.
Woods' last April trip to Augusta was astonishing. He held off Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay to win his fifth Masters and 15th major championship, and he did it all at the age of 43 at a point in time when his career was presumed (even by him) to be over. His spine had been fused together, and the rest of his body operated on innumerable times.
That moment, that Sunday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club, was as storybook as sports get. And yet, three years, several more surgeries and one horrific day in Los Angeles later, it seems that Tiger just teeing it up at Augusta National this time around would be equally remarkable.