He was walking onto the famous 18th green hours before the Masters leaders, but Tiger Woods still received an emotional standing ovation from the patrons.
A grueling four days had taken its toll on the golfing great, on a body which hadn’t played competitive golf in almost 17 months and which still wasn’t fully recovered from serious injuries following a car crash.
Appearing to be walking with a slight limp – one which became more pronounced as the 72 holes progressed over Augusta National’s hilly terrain – Woods’s face gave the impression it had been an enormous physical challenge getting round the course.
But walking up that final fairway on Sunday, the five-time Masters champion received a hero’s welcome with thousands on their feet showing their appreciation for the privilege it had been to watch Woods back on the course.
Although the 46-year-old finished 13-over for the tournament, he still managed to catch the eye with some of his play, displaying his customary resilience, deftness and brilliance with his clubs to make an unlikely cut on Friday.
When he was asked after his final round on Sunday how he felt about the whole week, Woods said the word “thankful” kept coming to mind.
“I keep saying it, but I am. I really am … Just to get to this point,” Woods told the media.
“Just to be able to play, and not only just to play, but I put up a good first round. I got myself there. I don’t quite have the endurance that I would like to have had, but as of a few weeks ago, didn’t even know if I was going to play in this event.
“To go from that to here, we’re excited about the prospects of the future, about training, about getting into that gym and doing some other stuff to get my leg stronger, which we haven’t been able to do because it needed more time to heal. I think it needs a couple more days to heal after this, but we’ll get back after it, and we’ll get into it.”
After suffering serious leg injuries in that car crash in February 2021, it wasn’t even certain whether Woods would be able to play golf again in a sport in which he’d been so dominant.
And there were some dark days during his rehabilitation.
“I have those days where I just don’t want to do anything,” said Woods. “It just hurts, but as I alluded to earlier, I’ve had a great team around me that are super positive and have motivated me and helped me around.
“The days I feel good are – those are easy days, but there have been more tough days than easy days. I just have to work through it, and like golf, in order to get better, you just have to go out there and put in the time.
“I think the hard part are the recovery sessions. Hopping in those ice baths, doing those a number of times a day, those do really suck, but it works.”
While he was able to suit up for the Masters and don his famous red and black attire on the Sunday, it was evident that he wasn’t back to full fitness.
He walked with a slight limp and appeared to struggle to properly bend all the way down when it came to judging the contours of a green.
Woods had previously already said that he wouldn’t be able to play a full PGA Tour schedule again, a sentiment he echoed afterwards while also confirming he plans to play at the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews, Scotland in July.
However he said he was still undecided about playing in golf’s next major, the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in May.
“I won’t be playing a full schedule ever again it’ll be just the big events,” Woods told Sky Sports. “I don’t know if I will play Southern Hills or not, but I’m looking forward to [The Open Championship] at St Andrews.
“That is something that’s near and dear to my heart, I’ve won two Opens there, it’s the home of golf and it’s my favorite golf course in the world. I will be there for that one.”
“But anything in between that I don’t know, I will try there’s no doubt, like this week I will try and get ready for Southern Hills and we’ll see what this body is able to do.”
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Woods has made a habit of proving people wrong when they’ve counted him down and out, returning from all manner of injuries and personal setbacks.
And although his future participation in some events is up in the air, golf feels a better place when Tiger Woods is prowling the course.
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