AUGUSTA, Ga. — In many ways, a theatre was a same Tuesday as a year ago. There were a azaleas backing a press-conference stage. There were a reporters, superfluous a 152 seats in a talk room, station opposite a behind wall. There were a lines around Tiger Woods’s eyes.
But in a ways that matter to Woods, and to a golf universe that revolves around him, all was different—and, during last, familiar. At the 2018 Masters, reporters had all though congratulated Woods on walking opposite a theatre and obscure himself into his chair. And he deserved it. He concurred that a eventuality was something of a reunion debate for him, that all over a “nice, comfortable, good life” he had begun to devise for himself was usually bonus. He batted divided questions about either he competence contend. He usually wanted to play golf though doubling over in pain. On Tuesday, he mused quickly about attempting a Tiger Slam for a second time.
He is substantially some-more versed to win here than anywhere else, and he knows it. In 1997, a year he initial won here, he outdrove a subsequent longest hitter by an normal of 23 yards. The year before that, it was 36. That advantage has evaporated—he enters a contest ranked No. 44 on Tour in pushing distance—but he has transposed it with experience. He’s scrutinized each in. of a course, personification use rounds alongside past champions and study their approaches. He’s tracked each composition Augusta National has made—many of them in an try to Tiger-proof a place—and remarkable how he competence adjust alongside it. He might be some-more gentle on these 18 holes than anyone else on earth. Unlike so most else in Tiger’s life, this place does not unequivocally change.
“I’ve some-more than anything usually proven to myself that we can play during this turn again,” Woods pronounced of a past 12 months. “I’ve worked my approach behind into [being] one of a players that can win events.”
Worked maybe understates a towering he has climbed. The unapproachable champion had felt himself discontinued by pain from a array of injuries to his reduce back. He indispensable assistance to arise from bed in a mornings. He would packet his son Charlie to courses and watch him play, incompetent to join in. At one point, Woods went outward to practice, strike a wave shot over a fort and crumpled to a grass. He couldn’t get up. He lay there in pain until his daughter, Sam, came looking for him and called for help.
“My back’s not doing unequivocally good,” he explained to her.
“Again?” she asked.
Woods endured epidurals, cortisone shots, a pharmacy’s value of painkillers. (Sometimes those got a best of him; in May 2017, he was arrested and charged with DUI. He pled guilty to brazen pushing and announced that he had finished a diagnosis module for his use of medication drugs.) Nothing worked. “In hindsight,” he pronounced final year, a thought that he could have played this eventuality in ’16 or ’17 “was a large siren dream.” In a end, he submitted to a fourth behind surgery—a spinal fusion—shortly after a ’17 Masters.
So when he returned final year to this place, a site of so many triumphs—four victories, a hundred memorable moments—he spoke some-more of wistfulness than of winning. He was reduction than a year private from a operation and had played usually 6 tournaments with his new spine. He was ranked No. 105 in a world; even that seemed during times a stretch. “For a integrate of years I’ve been entrance here usually to eat [at a champions dinner],” Woods said, a few mins after finishing 32nd at Augusta National final April. “I missed it. we unequivocally did.”
Now he enters carrying won last year’s Tour Championship, during East Lake, dual hours west of here, for his initial feat on Tour given 2013 and his 80th of all time. (It left him dual behind Sam Snead’s career mark.) He briefly led on Sunday during a British Open before finishing 3 strokes behind of Francesco Molinari. Woods is ranked No. 12 in a universe rankings. As they did each year from 1997 until 2013, people plead him as if he has a genuine shot to trip on a immature jacket.
“We all know he’s back,” pronounced Brooks Koepka, who has won dual of a final 3 majors. “There’s no doubt about that.”
The quip quickly seemed derailed, when Woods withdrew a Monday of contest week from a Arnold Palmer Invitational during Bay Hill. He cited a neck aria and insisted amid demoniac conjecture that he would be fine. He was right; during a Players a subsequent week he stayed tighten and eventually finished tied for 30th. He skipped Palmer’s tournament, he said, since he did not wish to pull himself too most streamer into a Masters.
The final doubt in final year’s press discussion was about Woods’s “second franchise on life.” On Tuesday it was about how good he had to play on Thursday (11:04 AM ET tee time) to be in position to win. As Woods rose and began to travel off a stage, a contributor called his name. “Are we practicing today?” he asked. Woods stopped. “Can we?” he asked, his eyes bright. The march had been sealed that morning due to thunderstorms, though it had reopened 15 mins before his press discussion began. Yes, a contributor said. “Then yes,” Woods answered. Then he stared brazen and straightened his behind and stalked out a door.