Tiger Woods has set sights on winning a sixth Masters title after confirming he plans to return to competitive golf this week for the first time since a life-threatening car accident less than 14 months ago.
The five-time champion, 46, announced that he aimed to tee it up at Augusta National on Thursday, although that he would play nine more practice holes on Wednesday before making a final decision.
“As of right now, I feel like I’m going to play,” Woods said at Tuesday's pre-tournament press conference on site at the season’s opening major.
The 15-time major winner, who has not competed since the final round of the 2020 Masters played that November, sent the golf world into a frenzy after playing a practice round at Augusta last week and then nine holes on Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, he said his Masters participation would be a "game-time decision".
Should he deem himself fit enough to play, Woods will tee it up for the first two rounds alongside South African Louis Oosthuizen and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann.
“I’m going to play nine more holes tomorrow,” Woods said. “My recovery has been good. I’ve been very excited about how I’ve recovered each and every day and that's been the challenge. That's why I came here and played 27 holes [last week].”
Asked if he believed he could win a 16th major title this week, Woods replied “I do,” before later adding: “I love competing and I feel like if I can still compete at the highest level, I’m going to.
“And if I feel I can still win, I’m going to play. But if I feel like I can’t, then you won’t see me out here. You guys know me better than that. I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it. That’s the attitude I’ve had.
“There’ll be a day when it won’t happen and I’ll know when that is.”
Woods’ injuries from the February 23 car crash were so severe that doctors considered amputating his right leg, with the limb now held in place using a rod in his tibia and screws and pins in his ankle and foot. At the time of the accident, he was recovering from a fifth back surgery.
Woods spent three weeks in hospital immediately following the crash, and then was confined to bed at his home for three months. As recently as the PNC Championship in December, where he competed with son Charlie and was permitted to use a golf cart, Woods conceded he could not compete with the lead players on the PGA Tour.
On Tuesday, he said: “I can hit it just fine. I've got no issues with the physical part; walking is the hard part… we've worked hard to get to this point. It's been a tough, tough year. A lot of stuff to deal with.”
Woods, for some time one of sportswear giant Nike’s principal clients, has been wearing FootJoy golf shoes at Augusta this week.
“I have very limited mobility now, with the rods and plates and screws that are in my leg,” he said. “I needed something different and something that allowed me to be more stable.
“Nike has been fantastic over the years and we've been working on finding me something that will allow me to swing again.”
When asked for one word to describe how he feels about the past 14 months, Woods said: “Thankful. Very thankful. To everyone that's been involved in my process. All the support from players; the amount of texts and calls I received have meant a lot. My team has been fantastic and worked very hard.”
Speaking earlier on Tuesday, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy said he wouldn't be surprised if Woods contends this week.
“I've spent a little bit of time with him at home, and the golf is there,” said the Northern Irishman, who is seeking to join Woods as one of only six players to complete the career grand slam.
“He's hitting it well. He's chipping well. He's sharp. It's just the physical demand of getting around 72 holes here this week.
"That's probably the question mark. But the golf game is there. So, would I be surprised? No, I'm not surprised at anything he does anymore.”