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Tiger Watch

Masters 2022: Will Tiger play? What we know and what we think

The Masters - Preview Day 1

Ezra Shaw

With just 10 sleeps ahead of the first tee shot of the 2022 Masters, there is increasing speculation that Tiger Woods will tee it up in the year’s first major. It’s extraordinary to even type that sentence given the events of the past 14 months, but Woods has spent 25 years turning the extraordinary into the ordinary—especially at Augusta National, the canvas for so many of his masterpieces. The internet is awash with rumors, some credible, some not, so let’s try to sort through what’s fact, what’s conjecture and what it all means for Woods’ chances of returning to competition at the biggest golf tournament in the world.

What we know: Woods remains on the official list of participants on the Masters website.

What we think: Every player who’s qualified is included on the participants page until they notify the club that they will not be participating. There’s a list of past champions who will not be playing at the bottom of the page, which includes Phil Mickelson, but not Woods. Were this a PGA Tour event, that would suggest that Woods has officially entered the tournament and filled out pre-event registration. The Masters, however, is different; tournament officials assume you’re playing until you tell them you are not. It’s helpful to think of it as Tiger hasn’t said no, rather than he’s said yes.

What we know: Since the accident, Woods has consistently maintained that he is far away from competition and stressed the difference between at-home golf and PGA Tour golf. He said so at the Hero World Challenge, the PNC Championship and the Genesis Invitational.

What we think: He’s managing expectations. Woods would gain nothing from telling media that he’s inching ever closer to a return; it would just put more pressure on himself to play by a certain date and add attention to the process. Woods prefers to work in silence, away from the cameras, to drop news only when he has some. He doesn’t think “I walked a full 18 holes for the first time”-type stuff is news. Remember when he dropped that swing video out of nowhere late last year? That’s how Tiger operates. Big news, or no news.

With that in mind, it’s entirely possible that Woods has been underplaying his rehab to quell speculation and allow himself to rehab in peace and without expectations.

What we know: Woods has been seen at his home course, Medalist Golf Club, in recent days.

What we think: Tiger’s progressed physically since the last time we saw him swing a golf club publicly, at the PNC Championship playing alongside his son. Woods’ game—particularly his short irons, wedges and putting—were highly impressive that week given the circumstances, less than 10 months after his traumatic car accident. But riding in a cart, the scramble format, dead-flat golf course and absence of rough meant Woods could pick and choose which shots to hit. If Charlie hit a good tee shot, Woods didn’t even bother. If he found a funky lie, he didn’t bother.

Competition, of course, is a different story entirely. Woods would need to walk the course for five, and probably six straight days. Augusta National’s undulating terrain makes it one of the harder walks on tour, and you’re essentially guaranteed to have a bunch of uneven lies throughout the week. It’s as physical as golf can get, and Woods has clearly ramped up his physical regimen. He seems to be testing his body by walking multiple rounds in a row and assessing how he feels afterward. He wouldn’t have Augusta be the first course he walks since the accident, so odds are Woods has simulated tournament preparation as best he can back home in Florida—going through his pre-round warmup, putting everything out, etc.—as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the tournament.

Don’t be surprised if Woods makes a trip to Augusta this week to give it a test-run on the venue itself. Something tells us he won’t have trouble getting a tee time.

What we know: Woods hired a former Augusta National grounds crew member to look after his backyard golf facility.

What we think: In addition to the full-swing/golf-course work at Medalist, you have to think Woods has instructed his greenskeeper to get his backyard short-game area playing exactly like Augusta National—same grass type, same speed. He has said multiple times since the accident that he still has his hands and that his chipping and putting can hang with the best in the world already. The backyard practice is a huge reason why.

What we know: This year marks the 25th anniversary of Woods’ landscape-altering victory in the 1997 Masters.

What we think: Tiger desperately wants to play. This is a man whose entire life is tied up in competition, and he’s surely itching to get back inside the ropes—to stop thinking about rehab and start thinking about what type of approach to play into a back-right pin.

The Masters holds a special place in Woods’ heart, the site of his first and his last (at least so far) major championship. No tournament has defined his career like this one, and he takes great pride in longevity. Being able to compete just a little more than a year removed from a potentially life-threatening accident, 25 years after he won the first of his 15 major championships, would add another bullet point to the ever-expanding list of Tiger feats. He’s put in an extraordinary amount of work in physical therapy and the gym to get to the point of even considering playing the Masters, and he wouldn’t put in that work if he didn’t think it was A) possible and B) worth it. He has said that his days as a full-time tour player are over, that he’ll have to pick-and-choose which events to prepare his body for. The Masters would be number one on that list, with the Open Championship at No. 2. (As an aside, barring a setback, Woods looks almost certain to be ready for the 150th Open this year at St. Andrews, where he has won twice. It’s a much flatter course and not as arduous a physical test as Augusta).

What we know: In his last interview, Woods told CBS’ Jim Nantz: “I don’t want to come out here and just play. That’s how I am. I need to feel that I’m confident that I can beat these guys, and I got to do the legwork at home. It’s on me.”

What we think: Tiger won’t play unless he thinks he can win. It’s that simple. He’s too competitive, too proud, too singularly focused to go out there, shoot a couple 76s, tip his hat to the patrons and hop back on the PJ. If he does indeed enter the tournament, it’s because he thinks his game and his body are in good enough shape to mount a challenge.

What we know: Woods has played—and played well—through excruciating pain before.

What we think: The guy won a U.S. Open on a broken leg and torn ACL, grimacing after every shot. His pain tolerance cannot be questioned. If playing next week is merely a matter of tolerating the pain—meaning he can walk the course and hit the shots, just that it’ll be painful as hell—expect him to play. If there is a risk of reinjury, that’s a different story entirely. But pain alone won’t keep Woods from playing in the Masters.

What we know: Unlike other tournaments, Woods’ decision to play the Masters doesn’t impact other players.

What we think: Woods isn’t taking a spot from anyone else in the tournament, which means he can wait until the last possible moment to make a decision. That he hasn’t publicly shared his plans suggests he’s still not sure on what he’ll do. We typically get that call on the Friday before tournament week, as it’s the last possible day invitees can commit or withdraw. In 2015, he announced on the Friday before that he was playing. In 2016 and 2017, he announced on the Friday before that he was not playing. Expect a decision on…drumroll please…the Friday before tournament week.