Masters 2024: Longshot Tiger Woods hopes ‘everything comes together’ at the Masters

Masters 2024: Longshot Tiger Woods hopes ‘everything comes together’ at the Masters
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – No. 959 in the world ranking met with the media on Tuesday at Augusta National Golf Club with a surprising amount of collective indifference.

Tiger Woods playing his 26th Masters is always significant, even more so considering he’s played exactly 24 holes on the PGA Tour since he withdrew from last year’s tournament. But according to the gentlemen and women in the desert, the 15-time major champion is a historic longshot this week.

Although his odds have fluctuated, Woods is currently listed at 175-to-1, which would be the longest odds in his career at Augusta National. That’s a longer shot than he was in 1996 when he played as an amateur (65-to-1), and last year when he arrived at the year’s first major as an 80-to-1 question mark.

To be fair, the gaming crowd has come by their skepticism honestly.

Woods played three nine-hole practice rounds on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at Augusta National and, by all accounts, he looked the part. While he walks with a noticeably different gait than he did before he had subtalar fusion surgery on his right ankle following his early exit from last year’s Masters, there were no outward signs of discomfort or stress.

That wasn’t the case last year when he made the cut but withdrew before an elongated Sunday. Since then it’s been a steady diet of no-shows and abbreviated weeks. He finished 18th out of 20 players at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December and then withdrew (illness) after six holes of Round 2 in the Genesis Invitational.

Although he said in December that his plan was to play “once a month” this year, neither his body nor his game have cooperated.

“I wasn’t ready to play. My body wasn’t ready. My game wasn’t ready,” Woods said of his decision not to compete in The Players Championship. “I thought that when I was at Hero, once a month would be a really nice rhythm. Hasn’t worked out that way.”

Woods wanted to play at least one tournament a month in ’24. He is hoping that’ll be the case going forward.

It’s why Woods begins this week in an unprecedent spot as a statistical longshot — not that Tiger has much interest in either the odds or the narrative that his time at Augusta National may have passed.

“If everything comes together, I think I can get one more [green jacket],” he said in his signature defiance.

There are breadcrumbs for those inclined to root out Tiger’s path to a record-tying sixth Masters title. Despite his physical limitations that have kept him on the disabled list for most of the last year, his ball-striking still draws the attention of his contemporaries.

“I just watched him play nine holes, and nine holes is only nine holes on a Tuesday, but he never mis-hit a shot,” said practice partner Fred Couples. “He’s here to win. He’s here to play really, really hard.”

What Woods lacks in endurance he makes up for with a unique institutional knowledge that only comes from decades of brilliance on one of the professional game’s most nuanced tests — or as he described, his “mental Rolodex.”

“You still have to go out and execute it but there’s a lot of knowledge that goes into understanding how to play it,” Woods said. “Every tee box has been changed since the first time I played. Every green has been changed. But the overall configuration of how they roll and how they move and the angles you take, that hasn’t changed.”

That, of course, is an optimistic outlook that’s not shared by either the bookmakers or some fans. As Woods gets further down the road from his seminal victory at Augusta National in 2019, the chance he’s going to catch lightning in a bottle (again) is fading.

He clearly remains driven to add to his legacy but time and countless treatments are not on his side. “I hurt every day,” he shrugged, “I ache. I ache every day.”

It’s an unprecedented place Woods finds himself, an undisputed longshot at Augusta National where he’s made so much history. But then, he’s always been adept at beating the odds.

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