There was a time when Tiger Woods simply playing at the Masters was considered a miracle. That was when the 14-time major winner couldn’t get out of bed.
The 42-year-old described the three years since he last played at Augusta National as “some dark times”.
“It’s been a tough road,” Woods said of his back pain.
“The amount of times I’ve fallen (over) because my leg didn’t work or I had to lay on the ground for extended periods of time, it was tough.”
It is why no one blinked when Woods declared himself a “walking miracle”.
A year after having his spine surgically fused together, Woods is a legitimate chance of winning a fifth Masters green jacket.
“That is a miracle, isn’t it?” Woods said. “I don’t know anyone who has had a lower back fusion that can swing the club as fast as I can swing it.
I went from a person who had a hard time getting up, walking around, and sitting down to now swinging the club 129 (miles per hour). That’s incredible.”
However, Woods did his best to pour cold water on the idea his return is among the greatest comebacks in sporting history.
“Well, I have four rounds to play, so let’s just kind of slow down,” Woods said ahead of his first round tee off early Friday morning (AEDT).
But if Woods wanted to sneak into the back door at Augusta, he shouldn’t have finished one shot behind winner Paul Casey at the recent Valspar Championship.
Or have come within one shot of the lead on the back nine during the final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the following week.
His two top-fives leading into Augusta ensured the 82nd Masters would be the most anticipated.
Field full of top-shelf contenders
Woods’ captivating injury comeback has overshadowed the other 86 players in the smallest Masters field in 21 years.
Notably, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy who can become just the sixth golfer to complete the career grand slam with a win this week.
“I know it would put me in history alongside some of the greatest,” said McIlroy, who has won the US Open (2011), British Open (2014) and US PGA Championship (2012, 2014).
“But you have to go out and get it; it’s not going fall into your lap. You have to win the Masters and earn it.”
Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion, has also been ignored amid ‘Tiger Mania’ despite finishing just three shots behind Houston Open winner Ian Poulter last week.
Spieth says this week is up there with the most confident he has ever felt.
“I feel better coming into this week than I did in 2016 and 2014,” Spieth said of the years he finished runner-up at Augusta.
“Being able to work my way into contention and hit some putts under pressure, last week was a tremendous stepping stone in the right direction.”
Then there’s world No.1 Dustin Johnson, returning a year after withdrawing from the Masters due to a freak fall down a set of stairs, and number two Justin Thomas fresh off a US Tour win in February.
Also in the mix this year are past Masters champions Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, as well as former world No.1 Jason Day.
“The Masters really sets up for a dramatic finish; I absolutely love watching it, but it’s more fun playing,” Woods said.
Woods has been grouped to tee off with Australia’s Marc Lieshman and England’s Tommy Fleetwood.