Tiger Woods in Masters field until he says he’s not

Is he back?

Impossible as it may be to imagine given the gravity of the one-car crash he was in back in February 2021, a traumatic event that nearly caused him to have his right leg amputated, but just days before Masters week Tiger Woods remains in the field …until he says he’s not.

As of early Friday evening, with Woods still among the players listed in the official field to play at Augusta National, this appears to be his tack: Carry on as if business is usual.

Even though business in the world of Woods is never “usual.”

Though many waited to hear something definitive from Woods on Friday, either confirming his plan to play or announcing that he’s not yet physically able, Woods was publicly quiet three days after he set the golf world ablaze by turning up at Augusta National for a practice round on Tuesday.

Unlike a regular PGA Tour event, which has a Friday afternoon deadline for a player to commit, the Masters does not require that of a qualified participant. So, Woods didn’t need to announce his intentions Friday if he chose not to. And he apparently thing not to.

The 46-year-old Woods, a five-time winner of the green jacket (his last being that memorable 2019 triumph that seemingly capped his remarkable comeback from a micro-disc surgery on his back), will play in his 24th Masters next week unless he tells us he won’t play.

If he indeed plays, this one might be the most remarkable of all — even including his first one, in 1997, and his win in 2019 — because of how unlikely it appeared the chances were.

Woods suffered serious injuries to his right leg and right foot in the one-car crash on Feb. 23, 2021. The SUV he was driving crossed over two oncoming lanes, struck a curb and uprooted a tree on a downhill stretch of a steep road just outside Los Angeles.

Woods was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center by ambulance and had open fractures in the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula in his right leg. It all made for not only an unlikely return this soon, but possibly not likely at all.

But Woods, who’s been adamant about keeping the bar of expectations set low for his latest return to the sport from injury in the few times he’s spoken publicly since the crash, always has been highly motivated by defying the odds.

All along, a return to the Masters seemed difficult to imagine because of how difficult the walk is at Augusta National with its sharply-undulating hills. Woods said, when he spoke at the Hero World Challenge in November, that the golf-shots part of his recovery was not as difficult as merely the endurance it took to walk to the courses.

When he played in the PNC Championship father-son event with his son Charlie in December, Woods’ shot making and ball striking looked remarkably sharp given how soon it was since the crash, which left him in the hospital for weeks and confined to a wheelchair once he returned home to Florida.

Woods had emphasized that the father-son event, which he called “hits and giggles” golf, was not a proper barometer for PGA Tour tournament golf.

“I wish I could tell you when I’m playing again,” Woods said on Feb. 16 at the Genesis Invitational. “I want to know, but I don’t. My golf activity has been very limited. I can chip and putt really well and hit short will go very well, but I haven’t done any long stuff seriously. I’m still working. I’m still working on the walking part.”

It always has felt like the British Open in July at St. Andrews — the 150th anniversary of the game’s oldest major championship — was the most obvious place for him to return to competition. Woods has won two Open Championships at St. Andrews and the course is very flat, making for a much easier walk than most courses.

But Woods appears to have made amazing strides physically in the quiet of his own workouts at home in Florida.

One sign was clear when he arrived at Augusta for that practice round on Tuesday: He wouldn’t have made that trip unless he believed his golf game was in a place that would allow him to compete for a sixth green jacket, which would tie Jack Nicklaus for the most in tournament history.

Woods’ recognition trip was all about seeing how he handled the 18-hole walk physically on that day — and how his body recovered from it. Those were the questions Woods needed to answer before he could commit to play.

It has been some 500 days since Woods last played an official PGA Tour event. That last round played was the final round of the 2020 Masters, which was held in November that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He finished in a tie for 38th after shooting 4-over 76 in the final round.

Adding to the drama of the week: This is the 25th anniversary of Woods’ first Masters victory in 1997.

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