Tiger Woods: Don't call it a comeback; call it 'a miracle'

Tiger Woods is back: here are the best photos from his time at the Masters

Four-time green jacket winner Tiger Woods is back in Augusta and expected to compete for his fifth jacket.
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Four-time green jacket winner Tiger Woods is back in Augusta and expected to compete for his fifth jacket.

In 1950, Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open 16 months after being hit by a literal bus. On Thursday, Tiger Woods begins his fourth comeback tour since a figurative bus hit his life in 2009.

In November of that year, Woods was involved in a minor car accident outside his home that led to a variety of revelations about a personal life gone off the rails. As he attempted to put that in the rearview mirror, his body began to falter. Now, less than a year after his fourth back surgery in the past three years, Woods is kind of, sort of, maybe back at the 2018 Masters.

“Well, I have four rounds to play, so let's just kind of slow down,” the four-time Masters champion said Tuesday in his first appearance in the Augusta National Golf Club media room since he last played the event in 2015. “I’ve got to go play and then let the chips fall where they may; and hopefully, I end up on top, but I got a lot of work to do between now and then.”

Woods, 42, invoked Hogan’s name when asked whether his first major victory in a decade might qualify as one of sport’s greatest comebacks. If nothing else, it would be one of the most talked about. Woods has finished in the top 12 of his past three events this season, and he’s among the Masters' betting favorites at 12-to-1 entering Thursday’s first round.

“I don't think there's one clear‑cut favorite,” Woods said. "I think there's so many guys playing well at the same time. I think that's what is making this year's Masters so exciting, is that there's so many guys. It's going to be fun.”

Woods is happy to be having fun again. Last year, he couldn’t sit in his chair for the Champions Dinner without pain “because my nerve was on fire, it was going down my leg and it was just burning,” he said.

On Tuesday, he was playing nine practice holes with Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Thomas Pieters and smiling lots of the time. Woods and Mickelson teamed against Couples and Pieters to make the back nine interesting. At the 11th tee box, a patron asked Couples if the Woods and Mickleson team was giving strokes to Couples and Pieters.

“As a matter of fact, they are,” Couples replied.

The extra strokes didn’t help Couples and Pieters, apparently.

“It was good because it was an appearance fee so we enjoyed it,” Woods said in reference to a wager between the players.

And, oh by the way, Woods eagled both of the Par 5s on the back nine.

Woods, who is second in golf history with 14 major victories, hasn’t won the Masters since 2005. He hasn’t won any major since 2008. He hasn’t won a PGA tournament since 2013. And he considers the fact that he’s a legitimate contender here this week “a miracle.”

“It's been a tough road, the pain of just sitting there and the amount of times that I've fallen because my leg didn't work or I just had to lay on the ground for extended periods of times. Those are some really dark, dark times,” he said.

At those moments, he never thought his swing speed would get back to near the 129 mph it was during his prime, but this week, he’s consistently topping 120 mph, he said.

“I'll be honest with you, it’s crazy,” Woods said. “I thought prior to the fusion surgery that that's pretty much it. I'll have a nice, comfortable and great life, but I'll never be able to swing the club like I used to speed‑wise, just there's no way.But for some reason, I don't have any pain. For some reason, it's come back. I wish I could tell you, I wish I knew, but all of a sudden I have this pop and my body and my speed's back and my timing. That part is very exciting, because I know that if I can maintain this, I can play out here for a very long time and be able to have the length to get around pretty much any of the golf courses.”

If he can get around Augusta National with the fewest strokes this week, people surely will be harkening back to Hogan and 1950.