Tiger Woods in race against time to be fit for Masters

Fifth back operation leaves 15-time major champion unsure when he will return to action

Tiger Woods looks on during the trophy ceremony on the practice green after the final round of the Genesis Invitational golf tournament at Riviera Country Club, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
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Tiger Woods could not give a definitive answer as to whether he would be fit to play the Masters in April, as he continues his rehabilitation from yet another back surgery.

The 15-time major champion, who won memorably at Augusta two years ago, had a fifth operation on his back days before Christmas – his first procedure since he fused his lower spine in April 2017.

However, speaking late on Sunday to the CBS broadcast during the Genesis Invitational - the American wasn't competing, but the tournament benefits his charity - Woods did little to quell doubts he will be fit and ready to compete for a sixth Green Jacket in six weeks’ time. The Masters takes place April 8-11.

“God, I hope so,” he said. “But I’ve got to get there first. A lot of it is based on my surgeons, my doctors, my therapist and making sure that I do it correctly. This is the only back I have got and I don't know how much more wiggle room is left there.”

Expanding somewhat on his recovery, Woods said: “I’m feeling fine. I’m a little bit stiff. I have one more MRI scheduled so that we’ll see if the annulus [fibrosus] is scarred over finally and see if I can start doing more activities.

“But still in the gym, still doing the mundane stuff that you have to do for rehab, the little things before I can start gravitating towards something a little more.”

Tiger competes with his son

Woods last played at the PNC Challenge in late December, where he competed alongside son Charlie in the father-and-son event. He had a microdiscectomy, a surgical procedure on his lower back, on December 23.

At Riviera to hand out the trophy to eventual winner Max Homa, Woods was asked if he would attempt to play before the Masters, but replied: “I don’t know what the plan is. Right now it’s just to go ahead and get that MRA and see if [the back] is healed and then start progressing.”

Based in Florida, Woods would not have too far to travel to the next few PGA Tour events, with all four staged in the Sunshine State. If fit for the Masters, he would be expected to compete in the Dell Match Play, two weeks before the season’s first major.

Since winning the Masters in 2019 - his first major in 11 years - Woods has played only 17 tournaments, winning the 2019 Zozo Championship and posting three other top-10 finishes. His last PGA Tour event was the postponed Masters in November, when he finished tied-38th. Now 45, Woods is currently ranked 50th in the world.