AUGUSTA, Ga. — Make no mistake about it, Tiger Woods is at Augusta National for more than that warm chocolate chip skillet cookie Scottie Scheffler is serving at Tuesday's Champions Dinner. When you've won 15 majors, it's hard not to think you have a 16th in you—especially at a golf course that might reward experience more than any other. But for a second consecutive year, Woods voiced extra appreciation for being able to tee it up at the Masters for a 25th time this week.
Two-plus-years removed from a car crash that nearly cost him his right leg and less than three years away from hitting the big five-oh, Woods is not the tournament betting favorite (DraftKings has him as an 80-to-1 longshot) he used to be. And forget about winning a sixth green jacket; Woods acknowledges he's unsure if he'll even play six more times here.
"I didn't know if I was going to play again at that time," Woods said of last year's comeback to competitive golf. “For some reason everything kind of came together and I pushed it a little bit, and I was able to make the cut, which was nice. Yeah, I don't know how many more I have in me. So just to be able to appreciate the time that I have here and cherish the memories."
Woods finished 47th last year, but impressed many by playing—and walking—all four rounds at hilly Augusta National. Even for a guy who is all about racking up wins, Woods allowed himself to be proud of that effort, calling it a "small victory."
Since then, the 47-year-old has only played all four rounds in a tournament once, finishing T-45 in February at the Genesis Invitational. Woods has played such a sparse schedule largely to save himself for the four major championships. And this will be his first since that possible tearful goodbye to St. Andrews last July. Woods missed the cut badly at the Old Course, another one of his favorite tracks, so what does he think he can do this week at Augusta National?
"Yeah, I think my game is better than it was last year at this particular time," Woods said. "I think my endurance is better. But it aches a little bit more than it did last year just because at that particular time when I came back, I really had not pushed it that often. And I had a little window in which I did push it and was able to come back."
OK, so mostly positives there …
"You know, I just have to be cognizant of how much I can push it," he added. "Like Rory [McIlroy] was saying, I can hit a lot of shots but the difficulty for me is going to be the walking going forward. It is what it is. I wish it could be easier. I've got three more years, where I get the little buggy and be out there with Fred [Couples], but until then no buggy."
Woods may not be PGA Tour Champions eligible yet, but he can't help but be inspired by a few guys who are, including Couples. How many times have we seen Freddie "turn back the clock" at Augusta National? Or Bernhard Langer? Well, the clock doesn't seem to move with that guy, but you get the point. Crafty veterans can thrive here—and Woods is well aware of that fact as someone who won this tournament four years ago at 43.
"I've gone through so many different scenarios in my head. You know I don't sleep very well, so going through it and rummaging through the data bank and how to hit shots from each and every place and rehearsing it; that's the only way that I can compete here," Woods said. "I don't have the physical tournaments under my belt. I haven't played that much, no. But if there's any one golf course that I can come back, like I did last year, it's here, just because I know the golf course."
Then he added one final thought to his pre-tournament presser.
"You look at what—Bernhard is still able to compete here, Fred is still able to compete here," Woods said. "They're older guys who understand how to play this particular golf course. It helps. And hopefully it will help me this week."
Sounds like a man intent on not only attending, but hosting that Champions Dinner again.
MORE FROM GOLF DIGEST @ THE MASTERS: