Tiger Woods' potential Masters appearance would be 'amazing,' says Jim Nantz
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Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
Tiger Woods’ potential appearance in the Masters was the talk of the golf world Wednesday, one day after reports that the five-time Masters champion played a practice round at Augusta National.
Longtime CBS announcer Jim Nantz said it would be an “amazing achievement.” Rory McIlroy called Woods' potential appearance “phenomenal.” He also confirmed reports that Woods made the trip to gauge his body’s ability to handle Augusta National’s hilly terrain.
“He's trying to see what he can do," McIlroy said from the Valero Texas Open. "Obviously no one knows but him if he can make it around and if he believes he can compete."
It wasn’t long ago that a Masters appearance from Woods felt unfathomable. While he exceeded expectations when he played the PNC Championship with son Charlie in December, Tiger rode a cart and didn’t hit every shot in the scramble format. He said it would take time to build up the strength necessary to compete in a 72-hole event. From his own Genesis Invitational in February, Woods said he was uncertain about when he would return to competition and expressed frustration at the pace of his comeback.
Speculation about Woods’ return began to build as his name remained in the Masters field instead of the “Past Champions Not Playing” category. Videos also appeared on social media that showed Woods walking at his home club, Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida, with his caddie, Joe LaCava.
“We didn’t know if he was going to make it through (the accident), and to be in this position where people are talking about, ‘This guy might actually play in the Masters,’ I think it’s amazing,” said Andy North, who will call the Masters for ESPN.
North’s colleague, Scott Van Pelt, marveled at the online fervor that began building as flight-tracking websites started following the progress of Woods’ plane as it flew from South Florida toward Augusta on Tuesday. “People were tracking his plane like it’s an SEC coaching search,” Van Pelt said.
The Masters broadcast teams from ESPN and CBS covered a variety of topics in pre-tournament conference calls Wednesday and Woods was obviously one of them. They could only speculate about a potential appearance from Woods – he has yet to announce his intentions, and the Masters does not have a commitment deadline – but they marveled at the fact that Woods could even consider playing.
“Is Tiger playing? We have no idea,” said ESPN’s Curtis Strange, whose 17 PGA TOUR wins included two U.S. Opens. “But it looks like he’s testing himself, and that is a good thing. How else would you test yourself, other than to go walk and play and get up there, play some practice rounds and see if you can walk the golf course. See how the leg holds up, see how the game is.
“And I commend him, because when you practice and walk and work out at home, it’s a different animal than when you get to the site and walk the golf course … which is the hardest walk in golf, Augusta National.”
Nantz visited Woods in Florida last month for a documentary on his historic 1997 Masters win, but received no hints that Woods may play this year. Nantz said Woods' appearance would be "astonishing" and a fitting addition to the first Masters with full capacity since Woods' 2019 win. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Woods’ first Masters win, a 12-shot rout where he also set the tournament’s scoring record. CBS will mark that anniversary before the final-round broadcast of this year’s Masters with a documentary titled, “A Win for the Ages.” The show will feature Woods discussing his relationship with his father, as well as pioneers Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford, and his recollections of the win.
Woods’ most recent TOUR start came at the COVID-rescheduled Masters in November 2020, prior to suffering significant injuries to both legs in a single-car accident the following February in Los Angeles. It was unknown whether he would walk again, and there was fear that his right leg would need to be amputated. Extensive rehab led to Woods teaming with son Charlie for a runner-up finish at the PNC Championship last December, his first action in front of cameras since the accident.
“My hopes for Tiger through this whole process, were just that he could play golf again,” said North, a two-time U.S. Open winner. “That he could get out and play golf and enjoy his time with Charlie and (daughter) Sam on the golf course as a father, and not as the former No. 1 player in the world. Not as the greatest player ever, but as a dad.”
The challenge of walking four competitive rounds at Augusta National, in addition to the necessary practice and preparation, can’t be understated, however. North called Augusta National “the last place you would’ve thought he could possibly play.”
“If he plays golf, where do you think he would possibly play?” North said. “I would say, maybe at The Open Championship at St. Andrews, because it’s flat, it’s an easy walk.”
But Woods isn’t the standard competitor. The 82-time TOUR winner returned from a fused back to win the 2019 Masters. He won the 2008 U.S. Open on a torn ACL.
A trip to Augusta suggests that he desires to compete next week. With that being the case, it’s hard to rule him out.
“Ben Hogan was as tenacious a competitor as they’ve ever been,” said Strange of the man who won six majors after suffering severe injuries in a 1949 car accident. “And Tiger Woods is right there with him.”
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.