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Tiger Woods Could Thrill Beyond Belief at the Masters

5 minute read

As Tiger Woods walked toward the 18th green at the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday afternoon, the crowd greeted him with an appropriate roar. The noise wasn’t as boisterous as it would have been on a Sunday, with the soon-to-be winner approaching. But it was pretty close, for good reason.

Once again, Woods had accomplished something once thought unimaginable.

In February 2021, a car accident in Southern California left Woods with “comminuted open fractures” in both the upper and lower portions of his tibia and fibula in his right leg as well as damage to his foot and ankle bones, and trauma to the muscle and soft tissue of the leg. A comminuted fracture is when a bone breaks into more than two fragments; an open fracture means the bone broke the skin. He was lucky to escape with his life. In the aftermath, he spent three months bedridden in his home. The idea of Woods playing in the 2022 Masters—or any major golf tournament—seemed beside the point.

But here was Woods on Thursday, trying to save par and remain at 1-under at the Masters. He finished the day shooting a 71, one-under par, and just four shots off the lead. Fourteen months after that life-threatening crash, and 508 days since his last round of official competitive professional golf, Woods is very much in the mix. “I’m right where I need to be,” he said afterward. Woods said he will be spending the next 16 hours making friends with “lots of ice.”

“Just basically freezing myself to death,” Woods says. “That’s just part of the deal.” He tees off for his second round, on Friday, at 1:41 p.m. ET; the wind’s supposed to pick up later in the afternoon.

Woods came to Augusta, where he’s won five Green Jackets, not knowing if he’d even play in the event: the pain could remain too acute. After a confident practice round earlier in the week, however, he decided to give it a go. He’s still walking with a bit of a limp, and he flashed an occasional grimace on Thursday. “Oh Tiger,” he yelled after a shoddy tee shot on the 14th. He dropped an f-bomb on nine.

“I can swing a golf club,” Woods says. “The walking’s not easy. It’s difficult. As I said with all the hard work, my leg, it’s going to be difficult for the rest of my life. That’s just the way it is.”

He fought through any impairments, however, to record a gusty—if not awe-inspiring—round of golf. After a “terrible warmup,” on the very first hole his approach shot rolled off the green; but he got up and down, saving par with a 10-foot putt, and setting the tone for the day. Woods repeatedly dug deep to avoid problems. He missed six out of 14 fairways off the tee, and hit just nine of 18 greens in regulation. No 46-year-old man with such statistics—coming off as many physical and mental wounds as Woods has—should finish a Masters round at one under.

But he’s Tiger Woods. On the sixth hole, a par-3, Woods stuck his tee shot two-feet from the hole: a hole-in-one may have set off an earthquake. Tiger was back. A regrettable bogey two holes later, on a par-5 scoring hole no less, pulled him back to even, but he wasn’t done; Woods positioned himself for a 25-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th hole; he left it just two feet short and finished off the easy birdie. A bogey on 14 followed, but on the par-3 16, site of so much magic for Woods and other greats, Woods delivered in vintage fashion. He curled in a 29-foot birdie putt, and pumped a familiar fist.

When Woods won the 2019 Masters—the last time a full crowd lined the fairways at Augusta—many fans and pundits called it the greatest comeback story ever told. Woods overcame scores of surgeries and scandal to win his first major championship in 11 years. But a victory this Sunday would exceed even that one. His first-round finish offered a hopeful sign. Woods fought to the end; a short, leftward tee shot on the par-4 18th left him in bogey territory. He muscled an approach well short of the green, but stuck his wedge close enough to the hole. He ended his day like he started it; sinking a clutch, pressurized putt from 10 feet away, to save par.

The crowd screamed, as if a typical player had just won a major. “Tiger! Tiger!” fans yelled as he left the green, his day done. One couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much louder Augusta would roar if Woods left a winner on Sunday. Five times? Ten times? What a sound that would be.

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com