Against all odds, Tiger Woods started the Masters on Thursday for his first truly competitive tournament since a car accident damaged his right leg so badly that he faced the prospect of amputation.
Dressed in a pink shirt and black pants, Woods was greeted with thunderous applause when his name was announced in a huge gallery surrounding the first tee.
Woods failed to make solid contact with his first shot: a 264-yard drive that faded behind a bunker on the right side of the fairway. His approach rolled across the front of the green, but he sank a 10-foot putt to save par, prompting another huge roar from the patrons.
Woods walked slowly and with a slight hint of limping, knowing he would face four tough days on an extremely hilly course if he manages to make the cut.
Just playing was a win for Woods.
His career was in jeopardy after a devastating car crash in Los Angeles in February 2021. He was confined to a hospital bed for three months and out of public view until last November when he posted a video of him swinging a club with a simple message, “Make progress.”
His only tournament in the 508 days since his last competition was a just-for-fun event in December in which he rode in a cart and was paired up with his 13-year-old son, Charlie.
Despite the long layoff and obvious physical limitations with screws and rods holding the bones in place in his right leg, Woods said he still believes he can earn his sixth green jacket.
At 46, he would be the oldest Masters champion by three weeks ahead of Jack Nicklaus.
The bigger question is how Woods holds over 18 holes for four straight days. He completed 18 holes last week – his first big test – on a reconnaissance trip with his son.
“The will and the perseverance, it’s incredible.”
He started at 11:04 a.m. ET on Thursday — 30 minutes late due to persistent downpours — with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann.
“I can hit really well. I have no qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint,” Woods said Tuesday. “The walk is the hardest part. It’s normally not an easy walk to start with. Now, given the conditions my leg is in, it becomes even more difficult.
“Seventy-two holes is a long road and it’s going to be a tough challenge,” he added. “And a challenge I’m up for.”