There was an “atmosphere like you’ve never seen before” at Augusta National on Monday as thousands of fans swarmed after Tiger Woods, eager for a glimpse of the five-time Masters champion who is trying to prove his fitness to play this week.
The 46-year-old surprised many when he announced last week that he was hoping to compete at the first men’s major of 2022 – just 14 months after suffering life-threatening injuries after crashing his car while speeding.
He played 18 holes last Tuesday, a few on Sunday and then nine more on Monday in the company of good friends Justin Thomas and 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples.
“I’m sure he’s going to tee it up on Thursday,” said Couples, who added that Woods looked “phenomenal” and “very impressive”.
“He’ll never let you know if he’s in pain. He was bombing it. He didn’t miss many shots, drove it great. He’s just unreal.
“Now it’s just the walking part. If he can walk around here for 72 holes, he’ll contend.”
Woods, whose last professional tournament was the rescheduled Masters in November 2020, when he was defending champion, is scheduled to speak to the media at 16:00 BST on Tuesday.
It is unclear if he will confirm whether he will play at this stage but with storms forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday he may not be able to get too much more time on the course.
His emergence from the clubhouse on Monday was greeted with cheers loud enough to distract Bryson DeChambeau.
“From the driving range, we could hear the loud roar when he came out of the clubhouse up to that first tee,” said the 2020 US Open winner. “That was pretty special to hear.”
And England’s three-time champion Nick Faldo tweeted: “Tiger just walked out of the clubhouse to scenes and atmosphere like you’ve never seen before. Patrons cheering and flocking to cram around the putting green. And it’s only Monday at the Masters.”
In February, Woods made it clear that he thought the hilly terrain at Augusta National would come too soon in his recovery.
He spent several months of last year in hospital after sustaining a number of serious injuries in the single vehicle car crash near Los Angeles – caused by him driving at close to double the 45mph speed limit. Woods has said he could have died in the crash, with the need to have a leg amputated another fear at the time.
Regardless of his misdemeanours off the course, Woods has remained the most popular player in the world.
Despite playing just once last year, in an exhibition event with his son Charlie in December, the 15-time major winner won the PGA Tour’s ‘Player Impact Programme’ – one tweet in November of him hitting balls for the first time since his accident, was watched by millions.
So it was no surprise to see crowds lining every fairway and standing 10-deep around the greens at Augusta National on Monday.
And his fellow professionals are delighted to see him at Augusta National.
“It’s exciting there’s the possibility he’s going to play this week,” said Australia’s 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott.
“I really hope he does. No matter what, it would just be epic.”
Scott also said if Woods plays he will be looking to match Jack Nicklaus’ record of six Masters titles, which would also take him just two behind his fellow American’s 18 major wins.
“I’ve learned long ago never doubt the guy,” Scott said. “If he can get around, which seems to be the question, you can’t doubt his golf.”
Fellow Australian Cameron Davis, who won last month’s Players Championship, played five holes with Woods on Sunday.
Smith said Woods was “still a little slow going up a couple of hills on 17 and 18” but added: “He’s striking it well. He’s hitting it far enough to play the holes the way you need to play them.
“I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be able to put rounds together out here.”