AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Tiger Woods has been part of many Masters cliffhangers but most have come on the final day of the major, not the first.
Woods left the sports world buzzing by playing a practice round at Augusta National on Tuesday and then on Sunday offered up another teaser, saying his participation would be a “game-time decision”.
The 46-year-old could write a book on the art of the comeback but an appearance on the first tee on Thursday could well be his greatest, given that he faced the possibility of having his right leg amputated after a car crash 14 months ago.
Certainly, the 15-time major winner could pick no better place to return than Augusta.
Woods has made 23 Masters appearances and has a locker packed with Green Jackets, number five coming in 2019 when, after years of surgery and personal problems, he ended an 11-year drought in the majors.
Should Woods decide to play it would make terrific theatre, bringing the curtain up on the major season and providing a special spectacle for the Masters as it emerges from two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
If not for Woods, Rory McIlroy may well have had the pre-Masters spotlight on him, the Northern Irishman again arrives at Augusta bidding to complete the career Grand Slam.
Like Augusta’s famous azaleas, it is a storyline that pops up every April only for McIlroy to wilt as he did last year when he missed the cut.
This year McIlroy comes in as one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour but like everyone else is pondering the possibility of seeing Woods back in action.
“I think for golf and for the Masters tournament and for everyone, to have Tiger there would be phenomenal,” said McIlroy.
“Anything Tiger Woods does in the game of golf is heightened whenever he’s there. It would be awesome for him to be there.
“Obviously, no one knows but him if he can make it around and if he believes he can compete.”
Like Woods, Hideki Matsuyama is facing fitness questions, raising concerns he will not be able to defend his Masters crown.
The first Japanese man to win a major championship, Matsuyama was forced to withdraw from The Players Championship in March with a back issue and last week did the same midway through his second round at the Texas Open citing a neck injury.
However, Matsuyama’s agent told Reuters that, “Hideki is looking forward to successfully defending his title next week.”
The only question hanging over new world number one Scottie Scheffler is can the 25-year-old’s red hot form take him to a Green Jacket.
Scheffler had never won on the PGA Tour before this season but has finished top the leaderboard in three of his last five starts, picking up titles at the Phoenix Open, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play event.
Jon Rahm, the man Scheffler replaced as number one, is the betting favourite to follow up his win at last year’s U.S. Open with a Green Jacket, and with good reason.
The big-hitting Spaniard has played the Masters five times and finished in the top 10 on four of those visits to Augusta.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Augusta; Additional reporting Frank Pingue; Editing by Peter Rutherford)