The life and times of Tiger Woods have never been short of drama. A Masters winner at 21, back-to-back wins at Augusta (a first in golfing history), 15 majors, numerous extramarital affairs, a divorce, the 2019 Masters win after surgery and a crippling accident last year: these are some of the peaks and troughs of his storied career. A Woods return to Augusta would undoubtedly be another dramatic moment.
Will Woods tee off with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann at 10.34 am ET Thursday morning? That’s not a certainty. But Woods says he feels like he’s going to play. “I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint,” he said on Tuesday.
It’s the 25th anniversary of Woods historic victory at the 1997 Masters: the first of his five wins at Augusta, Georgia. So the Masters is perhaps the apt tournament for Woods to resume his career after suffering severe leg injuries in a car crash in February 2021.
Woods seems upbeat about his ability to play, but can his body stand up to the rigours of playing four rounds of top-flight golf? It must be. Or else Woods would never attempt it. Because he is too much of a perfectionist. Yet, he worries about his ability to trudge the course for 72 holes.
That also brings up the question: Will he play? Woods will play only if he has a chance to win. The 15-major winner doesn’t play for fun. He doesn’t turn up. He wants to win. Woods admitted that on Tuesday. He was asked whether he legitimately thinks he can win? “I do,” was the answer.
No surprise there. For, he is addicted to winning. It’s a champion’s addiction that helped Woods accumulate 82 career PGA Tour wins — the most in history, along with American golfer Sam Snead.
Born Eldrick Tont Woods on December 30, 1975, he was introduced to golf at the age of two by his father, Earl, a single-figure handicap golfer, in Orange County, California. A child prodigy, Woods enjoyed an outstanding college and amateur golf career before turning professional at 20.
A year later, Woods justified the hype by winning the 1997 Masters — the first non-white golfer to win it — by a record 12 strokes after coming to Augusta on the back of three PGA Tour wins. At 24, Woods became the youngest of five golfers to complete the career grand slam — 1997 Masters, 1999 PGA Championship, 2000 US Open, 2000 Open Championship. When he won the 2001 Masters, Woods became the only golfer to hold all four major trophies simultaneously.
In less than a year after turning pro, Woods rose to number one and dominated the first decade of the 21st century. He remained on top for 264 consecutive weeks (August 1999 to September 2004 and June 2005 to October 2010) and won 13 majors.
Scandal and divorce
At the peak of his powers, Woods was embroiled in one of the most infamous sports scandals after a report in 2009 referred to an extramarital affair. As more reports of affairs surfaced, Woods lost significant sponsorship deals, spent 45 days in rehab and took a break until the 2010 Masters.
His six-year marriage disintegrated as Woods and Elin Nordegren divorced on August 23, 2010. That had an adverse effect on his game. Although he continued to win, he was no longer a dominant force. When Woods won the 2019 Masters, it was his first major in 11 years.
Throughout his career, Woods had battled injuries. That hasn’t stopped him. He won the 2008 US Open while carrying two stress fractures and a torn ligament; his 2019 Masters win came two years after a spinal fusion surgery — the fourth of his five back procedures. But last year’s car crash in Los Angeles was the worst. Woods’s leg fractures were so bad that he wasn’t sure of playing the PGA Tour again.
Since then, he has come a long way. Even to contemplate playing the Masters is a big ask. With his “altered” leg, it will be tough to walk on the undulating terrain of a golf course. This is why Woods says that playing golf isn’t the issue; walking the course is a bigger hurdle.
Why does he want to return to big-time golf? Definitely, not money. With career earnings of $2.1 billion, Woods is the second richest sportsman behind basketball legend Michael Jordan ($2.62 billion).
That means Nicklaus’s 18 majors could well be the target. The argument is not without merit, as Woods has been tipped to overtake Nicklaus ever since he broke into the golfing world as a prodigy. Woods is certainly one of the greatest golfers, but a record haul of majors would settle the argument about the best in golf history.
When Tiger prowls the Augusta, the Masters is never beyond his reach. History tells us that.