Tiger Woods began practice at Augusta National ahead of the 86th Masters, where he hopes to make his first start since a car crash 14 months ago left him with severe right leg injuries.

The 46-year-old US star went to the tournament practice area ahead of an expected round, the prospect of his incredible comeback electrifying the atmosphere at the famed course, which welcomed back a full crowd for the first time since 2019 due to Covid-19 limits the past two years.

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“Hopefully he does (play) and we can see him back out here playing golf again,” said sixth-ranked Cameron Smith of Australia.

“It would be massive. He has had a bit of an extended rest. I’m sure he’s dying to get out here. He’s a competitor and he’s looking to take people down. It would be good to see.” Woods was hospitalised for weeks and unable to walk for months after an automobile accident, saying he was lucky to be alive and not have his leg amputated.

He required major rehabilitation just to play in an event with his son last December, when he could use a cart and didn’t have to walk the entire course.

However, after giving no timetable for a return, Woods played an 18-hole practice round last Tuesday at Augusta National, testing his fitness to walk the hilly course.

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Tiger Woods walks on the first hole during a practice round. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods walks on the first hole during a practice round. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Tiger Woods walks to the first tee. Andrew Redington/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP
Tiger Woods plays his shot from the first tee during a practice round. Andrew Redington/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

Woods said Sunday before playing another nine holes that making a return this week is a “game-time decision” — which could come as late as his Thursday tee time.

“I’m not surprised. I’m amazed,” said 37th-ranked Max Homa. “I’d be surprised if it was anyone else that has ever lived. It’s a true testament to his work ethic. It’s remarkable really.” A quarter-century after Woods won his first major title by an astonishing 12 strokes at Augusta National to launched “Tigermania,” the 15-time major champion is again electrifying the atmosphere at the famed course.

World number 13 Billy Horschel spoke to Woods at the driving range Sunday but had no clue about his plans.

“If I’m in his shoes, I don’t do everything I’ve done for the last few months and show up here and not play,” Horschel said. “The only thing stopping him, I think, would be if he gets some kind of injury.

“I’m guessing he’s going to play and I’m going to be just as excited as everyone else to see him tee it up out here on Thursday.” Woods figures to have confidence in his game to contend for a sixth green jacket, which would match the career record set by Jack Nicklaus.

But his injured right leg will get a major test if Woods, who has fallen to 973 in Monday’s world rankings, tries to compete for the first time since the 2020 Masters, played in November due to Covid-19.

Woods has already made an extraordinary comeback at the Masters, winning in 2019 for his first major triumph since 2008 after spinal fusion surgery.

– Oldest Masters winner? –

Should Woods play and manage a fairy-tale triumph on Sunday, he would become the oldest Masters winner and third-oldest major champion in golf history, trailing only last year’s PGA Championship victory at age 50 by Phil Mickelson and Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA at age 48.

At 46 years, three months and 11 days, Woods would be a day older than Old Tom Morris when he won the 1867 British Open and three weeks older than Nicklaus when he won the 1986 Masters.

Tiger Woods warms up in the practice area. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFPSource: AFP

With storms forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday, Monday could mark the last opportunity for Woods and other players to test themselves over the record 7,510-yard, par-72 layout.

“You have to figure out how you are going to attack the course,” said Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, the 2019 Masters runner-up.

Augusta National extended the 11th hole, the course’s longest par-4, to 520 yards and the par-5 15th to 550 yards for this year.

“This is the trickiest place ever,” Homa said.

“This place is incredible how subtle they can make differences.”

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka says the key is to figure out where to place the ball, and that takes knowledge and experience as well as shotmaking skills.

“It’s just knowing the angles, the locations. The more you play it the more you understand,” Koepka said. “Having a few rounds here helps for sure. I play nine holes every day. Keep it calm. If you haven’t put the work in, you won’t get it done this week.”



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