Masters 2023: Tiger Woods has all the punches and the will to win, but can his body hold up at Augusta National?

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s Masters week, and Tiger Woods is hitting the ball better but feeling worse than a year ago. That’s how he said it on Tuesday, anyway, ahead of his 25th Masters appearance.

No. 24 was one of his worst ever, but there was a good reason for that. It was Woods’ first appearance at a professional golf event in 18 months. Against all odds, he came out, made the cut and played on the weekend. Woods shot 71-74 before closing 78-78 to finish 23 shots behind eventual champion Scottie Scheffler.

“Last year was kind of – I didn’t know if I was going to play again then,” Woods said of gutting 72 game holes a year ago. “For some reason it all kind of fell into place and I pushed a bit and was able to make the cut, which was good. I don’t know how many more I have in me . So just so I can appreciate the time I have here and cherish the memories.”

There’s a cruel irony with Woods these days. Mentally, he’s clearly as sharp as ever, and this should be the time in his career when – as he did in 2019 – he beats golfers with his mind. Going further, Woods still has all the shots as well. It’s just, well, it’s All other.

“He looks good,” said Rory McIlroy of Tiger. “You know, if he didn’t have to climb those hills and have all of that, I’d say he’d be one of the favourites. I mean, he’s got all the punches. It’s just that physical limitation to walk 72 holes, especially on a golf course as hilly as this.”

Woods agreed.

“I think my game is better than it was last year right now,” he said. “I think my stamina is better. But it hurts me a little bit more than last year just because at that exact moment when I came back, I really hadn’t pushed as often. And I had a small window I did Push it in and was able to get back in. Fast forward, didn’t really play much after that. Took a bit of time to recover from the event.

“I played in February in Los Angeles and then I took some time off before I prepared for it. You know, I just have to know how hard I can push it. Like Rory said, I can hit lots of hits but the hard part for me is going to be the walk ahead. It’s what it is. I wish it were easier. I’m still three years old where I take the little buggy and I’m there- down with Fred [Couples on the PGA Tour Champions]but until then, no buggy.”

So where does that leave Woods for this year’s event – the one he could win with his swing and his mind, but also one he probably won’t win because his body might not be able to handle four days on the Augusta National field?

It’s a strange thing for an athlete to still have the abilities that allowed him to be the best ever, but also not have the physical ability to unleash them. Maybe it’s because running, jumping, and moving quickly are integral to other sports. Woods’ problem is equivalent to a world-class pool player losing his ability to stand.

Still, if he can endure everything else, the 96% of the time he’s on the course, he can still do the remaining 4% very well, maybe not as well as ever but well enough to maybe quietly launch a little challenge. So, on the one hand, there’s not much hope… but on the other hand…

“I went through so many different scenarios in my head,” Woods said. “You know, I don’t sleep very well, so going through it and digging through the database and how to pull shots from each spot and repeat it – that’s the only way I can compete here.

“I don’t have the physical tournaments under my belt. I haven’t played a lot, no. But if there’s a golf course I can come back to, like I did last year, it’s here. Just because I know the golf course.”

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