AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP)A comeback unlike any other for Tiger Woods might start at the Masters.
Just over 13 months since Woods damaged his right leg so badly he said doctors considered amputation, Woods arrived at Augusta National on Sunday afternoon and warmed up on a range where there were more photographers than players.
Woods hit balls for about 20 minutes and then got in a cart and headed to the course, which is closed Sunday afternoon to everyone except players and caddies.
Already a star attraction, the hype over the five-time Masters champion is higher than ever after a violent single-car crash that looked as though it might end his career.
Still to come is the decision on playing.
In a tweet Sunday morning announcing he was coming to Augusta to resume preparations for the Masters, he said it will be a ”game-time decision” whether he competes.
The Masters does not have a firm deadline to commit like regular tour events. It is an invitation tournament, and players typically notify the club only if they do not plan to play.
Tee times are published Tuesday.
”Knowing Tiger the way I know him, if he wasn’t totally like … pretty much feel he has a chance to win, he wouldn’t tee it up,” Mark O’Meara said. ”The thing about Tiger Woods is usually when everybody thinks he can’t do something, that’s when he does it.”
If Woods decides to play – he played 18 holes at Augusta National five days ago – it would be his first competition against the world’s best players since Nov. 15, 2020, when the Masters was moved to autumn because of the pandemic.
Photographers and media waited at the far end of the viewing area on the range near the caddie house to see when he would arrive. Woods showed up on the other end, shaking hands with defending champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Kevin Na and Billy Horschel were among those who came over to shake hands or hug him. Also on the range were Sungjae Im, Mackenzie Hughes and Jason Kokrak. Sunday afternoon before Masters week is a quiet time most years. Just not this one.
Woods was recovering from a fifth back surgery when on Feb. 23, 2021, two days after he presented the trophy at the Genesis Invitational that he hosts at Riviera, he crashed his SUV over a median on a suburban coastal road in Los Angeles and down the side of a hill.
Police estimated he was going at least 84 mph in a 45 mph zone.
Doctors said Woods shattered tibia and fibula bones in his right leg in multiple locations. Those were stabilized by a rod in the tibia, while a combination of screws and pins were used to stabilize additional injuries in the ankle and foot.
Woods said he spent three months immobilized in a makeshift hospital bed set up in his Florida home. Only then he could start moving around on crutches, and eventually he was able to walk on his own.
Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 with a double stress fracture and torn knee ligaments in his left leg. He made it back from a scandal in his personal life to become No. 1 in the world again.
Nothing was more amazing than three years ago at Augusta National when he won a fifth green jacket after four back surgeries that made him fear he might never walk again.
That he is even contemplating playing in this Masters is remarkable in its own right. If he can, questions are sure to shift to whether he can win.
A week before Thanksgiving, he posted a three-second video hitting one shot with two words: Making progress. Two weeks later at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, a holiday event Woods hosts, he was on the back end of the range at Albany hitting drivers.
The first big surprise came two weeks later when he played the PNC Challenge, a 36-hole scramble on a flat Florida course. Woods was allowed to ride in a cart, a point he made when there were gushing observations about the state of his game. He and his son finished second when John Daly and his son birdied the last hole.
”It’s going to take a lot of work to get to where I feel I can complete against these guys and be at a high level,” Woods said that day.
Addressing the condition of his right leg in February, Woods said it’s ”altered” and that ”my right leg doesn’t look like my left, put it that way.”
The importance of the practice round last week was for Woods to make sure he could walk 18 holes on the undulating terrain of Augusta National and still be able to recover in the days that followed. That he was returning Sunday was a good sign.
Can he win again? That would be considered more improbable than his last Masters victory.
In his last competitive round at Augusta National, he made the highest score of his career – a 10 on the par-3 12th hole by hitting three balls in Rae’s Creek – only to birdie five of the last six, including the last four in a row.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Augusta contributed.
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