May 23, 2024

The dramatic elevation changes of Augusta National are not always evident in Masters broadcasts. It’s a common observation by first-timers to the storied golf course that it’s far hillier than it looks on TV.

The ups and downs of Tiger Woods? Plainly evident for the world to see.

It all played out on the public stage. The historic success, the personal downfall, the epic comeback, the car accident that nearly claimed his life.

Five years have passed since the legendary Woods won his fifth and latest green jacket. Now, for the 29th time, he’s preparing to make another run.

“It’s been a part of my life to have won here as my first major [championship] as a pro,” said Woods, 48, addressing the media as he has every Tuesday of Masters week. “Hugging my dad, as you saw [at his victorious 1997 Masters], then a full circle in 2019 to hug my son.

“It has meant a lot to my family. It’s meant a lot to me. I always want to keep playing in this.”

Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, considers that against-all-odds victory in 2019 to be the one of the remarkable moments in sports history.

“I can make the case scientifically and medically, psychologically, that that’s the greatest comeback in the history of sports,” McManus told The Times in February. “To win in 1997 and then have a period in his life for almost 11 years since winning a major championship in the Masters, and then winning that knowing what he went through legally and physically and emotionally. The fact that he was able to win in 2019, so many years after his first victory I think is amazing.

“It’s a little bit like a pitcher throwing a perfect game in the World Series, which is not dissimilar to what Tiger did in ‘97, and then have that pitcher, after devastating injuries to his knee, his ankle and his leg and his back, come back and throw another perfect game 22 years later.”

More history awaits. Woods is attempting to make the Masters cut a 24th consecutive time, which would be a Masters record. He tied Gary Player and Fred Couples by making his 23rd cut in a row last year, but he had to withdraw seven holes into his Saturday round because of foot pain.

Playing through pain is part of Woods’ everyday existence, especially after his rollover crash in 2021 near Rancho Palos Verdes.

“I ache every day,” he said. “And I prefer it warm and humid and hot. I know we’re going to get some thunderstorms, so at least it will be hot. It won’t be like last year.”

The forecast calls for likely rain Thursday and sunshine the next three days, with temperatures ranging from the low 70s to mid-80s. There was a lot of rain last year.

The Masters is the only one of the four major championships that takes place on the same course every year. Woods said that puts a premium on experience and course knowledge and is among the reasons players in their 50s and 60s have made the cut, and green jackets are still within reasonable reach of players in their 40s.

“Now, you still have to go out and execute it, but there’s a lot of knowledge that goes into understanding how to play it,” he said. “Granted, every tee box has been changed since the first time I played. Every green has been changed. But the overall configuration of how they roll and move, the angles you take, hasn’t changed.

“That’s the neat thing about this. I can still go through the mental Rolodex and bring out a few putts from the ‘90s that still move generally in that direction, and the effect Rae’s Creek has on certain shots and putts. And it means a lot.”

Woods played the front nine Sunday, the back nine Monday and Tuesday morning played the front again, along with Fred Couples and Justin Thomas.

“He said his back was doing OK,” Couples said of Woods. “I think last year it was so bad that a lot of things just wore him down, playing in that rain, moving around slowly, sluggish… But this year he looks strong. He’s excited to play, and I think he looks really, really good.”

Woods said returning to Augusta evokes memories of the first time he was here, when he was playing for Stanford in an event against Georgia Tech. He arrived on the property in the middle of the night on that trip and stayed in the Crow’s Nest, the cozy and neatly appointed attic of the clubhouse which has sleeping space for up to five people.

“The next day I got a chance to see the golf course and what this amazing property this is,” he said. “Just the fact that I’m able to put on a green jacket for the rest of my life is just absolutely amazing. I’m just an honorary member, but I love it.”

He said he’s not ready to be a ceremonial starter, and he believes he has a chance to shock the sports world again.

“If everything comes together,” he said, “I think I can get one more.”

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