AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The doors to Augusta National opened a little after 7 a.m. Monday. It didn’t seem like masters week started just before 3 p.m.
Tiger Woods was on the first tee, and now was not the time to buy shirts and caps or line up for chili cheese sandwiches. This was evident by the biggest golf crowd this year on any hole except the par-3 circus 16th at the Phoenix Open.
Woods consumes attention with every Masters he plays. It’s been that way since the first of five green jackets he won 25 years ago.
Now it’s even bigger in these unusual circumstances.
He hasn’t played against the best in 17 months, not since the 2020 Masters in November when he was recovering from a car crash that once looked like it could end his career. And remains to be determined if he plays this one.
Woods said it would be a “game-time” decision if his battered right leg and ankle could handle walking and competing 18 holes at Augusta National.
“There’s always buzz around this place,” said Billy Horschel. “But there’s just another level of buzz to see him and see him play. I’ve thought about it in the past, and I might be on the first tee to watch him play if my tee works and all, just because it’s a special time.
It’s not like this Masters is devoid of drama.
Rory McIlroy gets another career Grand Slam shot. He spent Monday in an Irish fourball alongside Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington and Seamus Power. They have eight majors among them; Power makes his Masters debut.
Bryson DeChambeau is back, even though he says his doctors don’t recommend it.
DeChambeau said he first injured his left hip two years ago during speed training — swinging as fast as his body allowed — and sliding on concrete.
Then he didn’t work on finger strength, which caused a snapping noise in his wrist before his televised match against Brooks Koepka in Las Vegas last November. This led to a hairline fracture of his hamate bone in his left hand. And then he slipped on marble while playing table tennis in Saudi Arabia in early February, got horizontal and landed on his hand and hip.
He declared himself at 80%, although he liked the way he felt entering the Masters. DeChambeau hasn’t made a 36-hole cut since The Northern Trust in late August – then again, he’s only played eight times since then, six of those tournaments without a cut.
“The last few weeks have been very, very tough for me, I wasn’t playing well and hitting him where I know I should be hitting him,” he said. “Shout ‘Forward!’ off the tee every time just isn’t fun.It’s also very hard on your mental psyche.
Playing the Masters was a “huge risk” a few weeks ago and a move he said his doctors did not recommend. He was day to day until he felt comfortable trying.
“Different situation than Tiger, obviously, but it was definitely a day-to-day process to figure out if I could do it,” he said.
So much goes back to Woods, who broke his right leg and ankle bones in the car crash outside Los Angeles in February 2021 that left him stranded for three months and n didn’t play for a club until last November.
Brooks Koepka knows a thing or two about playing with an injury, although few people paid attention.
Koepka had surgery on his right knee three weeks before the Masters last year and was still determined to play. It was so bad he couldn’t squat to read putts. Koepka is finally back in full, even though he still hasn’t won since the Phoenix Open over a year ago.
He’s more concerned with his own game than what Woods is going on, although Koepka can appreciate the walk Woods faces better than most players.
“Look, I’m glad he’s healthier and able to play golf,” Koepka said. “We need him, the game needs him, everyone needs him, the fans need him, all that stuff. But at the end of the day, everyone is just here competing. I worry about myself and I’m sure everyone worries about themselves.
Koepka said he needed cortisone shots just to play. Add the hours to prepare before the tour and to recover after the tour, and it led to long days.
“I understand what he is up against. It will be difficult. But if anyone can do it, it’s him,” Koepka said. “I don’t know everything he’s going through. His was much worse than mine, so I’m not trying to compare it. I just know it’s hard to walk in this place when you don’t have the same body parts you’re used to.
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