The private flight tracking, the Medalist rumors, the never-ending hope — this morning, the last year of Tiger Woods news came to a head when he touched down at Augusta National, home of the Masters, for a practice round that almost no one saw coming. Just over a year after a car accident that nearly cost the 15-time major winner his life, Tiger may just defy all odds for the umpteenth time next week. Talk about a tradition like no other.
Woods hasn’t played a professional tournament since late 2020, though he did appear with his son Charlie at the PNC Championship in December. Augusta is nothing if not the place for a Tiger Woods miracle — in 2019, after a decade-long majors drought, he took home the green jacket in an emotional victory.
To return to playing such a major tournament after a relatively short rehabilitation period would have been ruled out for just about any other athlete, but Tiger is Tiger. He might not climb Mount Everest again, as he himself put it, but to play the course would be a huge win in and of itself. After months of public denial that he had any sort of expedited timeline and repeated insistences that he had a long way to go in his rehabilitation, this move is somehow both a delightful surprise and entirely predictable.
The issue at this point, though, is whether he’ll be able to walk the Masters course for four days in a row following his severe leg injuries. He was allowed to use a golf cart to get around the course at the PNC Championship, but that’s certainly not the norm for a PGA Tour event, let alone a major.
However, several people reported seeing Woods play the Medalist course in Florida this past weekend with caddie Joe LaCava. Greg DuCharme, who worked at Medalist during another of Tiger’s recovery periods, said on the First Cut podcast that he thinks that this walk may be a sign that Woods is preparing for a legitimate comeback.
Woods is reportedly doing a practice round at the course today to see how his body will handle the physical demands of Augusta, though in theory, he may be able to use a cart if he were approved to do so.
In 2001, Woods’ former Stanford teammate turned pro, Casey Martin, sued the PGA under the Americans with Disabilities Act after he was disqualified from an event for requiring a cart to get around due to a circulatory disease in his right leg known as Klippel-Trénaunay syndrome, which is aggravated by walking long distances. Martin’s case made it to the Supreme Court, where they ruled in favor of Martin, rejecting the PGA Tour’s argument that walking was integral to the game of golf.
Martin’s exemption has only been applied one other time in PGA history, when John Daly was granted a cart for the 2019 PGA Championship because of knee problems. Martin, who is the men’s golf coach at the University of Oregon, had his affected leg amputated in October.
However, even if he were granted a cart allowance from the PGA, Woods likely wouldn’t take it. In late 2021, Woods denied that he would ever use a golf cart for a PGA Tour event, saying, “No. I wouldn’t, no. No. Absolutely not. Not for a PGA Tour event, no. That’s just not who I am. That’s not how I’ve always been, and if I can’t play at that level, I can’t play at that level.”
The game of golf isn’t just about the swings for Tiger, but about the entirety of the event, even if the Supreme Court disagrees — which anyone who has been following Tiger to any extent over the years could probably have expected. His hyper-competitive drive is matched by very few athletes in history, and it appears that he would see using a cart as a cop-out for his comeback, whether or not that’s an accurate perspective.
For Woods, there may be one more hurdle — the mindset required to play at this level. Last month, at a tournament that he hosted but didn’t play in, he said, “It’s the competitive nature, how much that takes out of you mentally, physically, emotionally. I haven’t prepared for any of that. Going for a walk, I can do that. Am I going to be sore? Hell, yeah, but I can do that.”
Perhaps the last month has been spent in mental preparation — we’ll find out soon either way, as the Masters is set to kick off April 7.