Tiger Woods launched his unlikely quest for a record-matching sixth Masters title on Thursday, 14 months after a car accident left him with injuries so serious he feared he would lose his right leg. The 46-year-old, who has fallen to 973rd in the world rankings, said this week that he thought his game was good enough to win a 16th major championship. But he acknowledged that his surgically repaired leg was an unknown amount en route to his first top-level competitive round in 17 months on the hilly, 7,510-foot Augusta National course. “You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it’s going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I’m excited about,” Woods said days before the tournament.
Woods cut a lively figure in a bright pink shirt and black pants – all the better for the thousands of Augusta customers eager to catch a glimpse of him to track down their hero.
A 30-minute delay in the start due to thunderstorms before dawn only heightened expectations for Woods’ appearance on the first tee.
He wasn’t happy with his opening drive, which missed the right fairway bunker. His approach seeped off the greenery.
When Woods opened his round, two players, Irish veteran Padraig Harrington and amateur Austin Greaser, were one-under through nine holes.
Woods’ quest for a 16th major title comes 25 years after he confirmed his superstar status with a record-breaking win that made him the youngest Masters winner, with the first of his current 15 major titles.
He raced alongside former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Chilean Joaquin Niemann — who was not born when Woods won his first Masters title in 1997.
Niemann belongs to a group of young golfers whose careers were shaped by the influence of Woods.
Scottie Scheffler, 25, arrived at Augusta at number one in the world after winning his first three US PGA Tour titles in the space of two months.
27-year-old US Open champion Jon Rahm can regain the number one position he relinquished to Scheffler with a maiden Masters win, one of five players to displace the American this week. alongside reigning British Open champion Collin Morikawa, FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, rising Norwegian star Viktor Hovland and Australian Cameron Smith.
Northern Ireland’s four-time major winner Rory McIlroy will try for the eighth time to round out a Grand Slam career with a Masters win, as defending champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan struggles with fitness issues as he tries to join Nicklaus , Nick Faldo and Woods as the only players to win consecutive Masters titles.
How many comebacks?
But all the focus was on Woods, and whether he can make the most miraculous comeback ever in a career marked as much by his determination to endure pain as his sublime skill.
Woods won the 2008 US Open with a broken leg and then battled through five back surgeries, including a spinal fusion, before winning his 15th major title at the 2019 Masters.
“I mean, how many comebacks has he had?” former Masters champion Jordan Spieth marveled.
Former PGA champion Justin Thomas says Woods’ game is “sufficient, good enough to play well.”
So Woods will once again face the pain and try to face the odds to match Jack Nicklaus’ record of six green jackets and get closer to Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.
He would become the third oldest major winner in history, surpassing Nicklaus as the oldest Masters winner within weeks.
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