Tiger Woods may regard himself as the miracle man but he would not class success in this, the 82nd Masters, as the finest sporting revival story of all time. Speaking at Augusta National on Tuesday, Woods cited the recovery of Ben Hogan from a head-on road collision in 1949 to win multiple majors.
“As far as greatest comebacks [go], I think that one of the greatest comebacks in all of sport is the gentleman who won here, Mr Hogan,” Woods said. “I mean, he got hit by a bus and came back and won major championships. The pain he had to endure, the things he had to do just to play, the wrapping of the leg, all the hot tubs and just how hard it was for him to walk – walk, period. He ended up walking 36 holes and winning a US Open [the next year]. That’s one of the greatest comebacks there is and it happens to be in our sport.”
Woods partly played down what is the fevered excitement attached to his Masters hopes. Strong finishes on the PGA Tour in 2018 mean the 42-year-old is rated among the Masters favourites, 13 years after his last Augusta triumph.
“I have four rounds to play, so let’s just kind of slow down,” Woods said. “I’ve had anticipation like this prior. If you remember the buildup was from the US PGA Championship of 2000 to the Masters of 2001, nine months of building up, what that tournament would mean. And it’s the same thing. I have got to go play and then let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully I end up on top but I have got a lot of work to do between now and then.
“I’ve played well over the years, I’ve won here a few times, but all those years that I’ve won, one part of my game has certainly stood out. Whether it’s driving the ball like I did in 1997 and putting it a couple years where I really putted well or hitting my irons and hitting a lot of greens, but not only missing, missing in the correct spots every single time, there’s got to be a certain part of my game that’s got to be on, and hopefully this will be one of those weeks. I don’t think there’s one clear-cut favourite. I think there’s so many guys playing well at the same time. I think that’s what is making this year’s Masters so exciting.”
Woods reiterated his phrase of being a “walking miracle” on this, his return from back fusion surgery. “The reason why I say I’m a walking miracle is that I don’t know of anyone who has had a lower back fusion that can swing the club as fast as I can swing it,” he explained. “That’s incredible. Some guys have said [jokingly]: ‘Yeah, I need to fuse my back so I can hit it harder.’ No, you don’t want to go through that.
“That’s why I say that. It is a miracle. I went from a person who really had a hard time getting up, walking around, sitting down, anything, to now swinging the club at 129mph. That is a miracle, isn’t it?”
Eyebrows were raised on Tuesday morning as Woods took to the course for practice alongside Phil Mickelson. At the peak of the duo’s powers, Woods and Mickelson were known to have a tetchy relationship. “Our friendship has gotten stronger over the years,” Woods said. “We’re at the tail end of our careers, we both know that. We have had a great 20-year battle, hopefully we’ll have a few more, but we understand where we are in the game now versus where we were in our early 20s.”
Woods’s Masters credentials were endorsed by Rory McIlroy, who is seeking to complete a grand slam of major championships at the fourth time of asking.
“He’s got a great chance,” said McIlroy of Woods. “Look at how he’s played the last few weeks. He’s had four wins here. Any time Woods is healthy and in this sort of form, he is dangerous at any tournament. But given his history here, I think even more so.”