Just over a year ago Tiger Woods was facing the possibility of losing his right leg. Now, with less than a week until the Masters tees off, he’s facing the possibility of playing.
Cast your mind back to February 2021, a return to golf for Tiger Woods was unthinkable, never mind a return to the Masters just over a year since his horrendous car accident.
Yet the golf world has one question this weekend: will Tiger Woods play in the Masters next week?
The 46-year-old himself has said he will never reach the top level again but his former coach Butch Harmon has not ruled out Woods returning to Augusta – and returning to win.
With less than a week until the Masters tees off, Tiger Woods is facing the possibility of playing
Woods has said he does not expect to return to the top of golf after his horror car crash
Harmon, who guided Woods to his first eight majors, insisted the five-time Masters champion would not play unless he believed he could be competitive.
‘I think if he doesn’t feel he can be competitive, he wouldn’t even play,’ said the Sky Sports expert.
‘The big concern was always going to be can he walk the hills at Augusta with a leg that was so injured.
‘He may have answered that himself on Wednesday because I understand that he did play 18 holes.
Sky Sports expert Butch Harmon insisted the five-time Masters champion would not play unless he believed he could be competitive
‘He would know whether he can or can’t based on that. And it’s not just one day. He’s got to do it for four days in a tournament.
‘But Tiger has always said if he doesn’t feel he can be competitive, he wouldn’t play. So if he does show up and play, I think we have to believe that he thinks he can get it done.
‘I just don’t think that’s his nature. I don’t think he’s gonna show up to shoot 78, 78. I mean that to me is not Tiger Woods.’
Woods pulled off one of the greatest sporting comebacks when he won his fifth Masters in 2019 from the depths of physical despair.
Woods had already won 14 majors but his 15th capped them all as he overcame a persistent troublesome back to become a Masters champion again.
But Harmon claimed Woods has the potential to top even his 2019 triumph as he admitted nothing about the golfing great surprises him anymore.
‘You can never say never with Tiger Woods. He will always prove you wrong,’ he said.
Woods pulled off one of the greatest comebacks when he won his fifth Masters in 2019
‘He has this tremendous will to survive no matter what it is. And he’s very competitive in everything he does.
‘We learned that the last time. I for one never thought he would win another tournament again, much less another major. And he did come back and win it.
‘So you can never say never with him and nothing surprises you about the guy.
‘It’s mind boggling. If he could pull this one off, this is it. Even if he doesn’t win, just say he plays and he plays respectively, makes the cut, maybe gets in the hunt a little.
‘I think it’s probably even bigger than when he came back and won in 2019 because you consider the severity of the traffic crash, it’s amazing he’s still alive.’
Eight years. It’s been eight years since Rory McIlroy last won a major and eight years of waiting for fans to see him complete the Grand Slam.
McIlroy has won every major – including the PGA Championship twice – bar the iconic Masters, with his best finish coming in 2015 when he placed fourth.
Augusta has not been kind to McIlroy with the coveted Green Jacket continuing to elude him.
The coveted Green Jacket has continued to elude Rory McIlroy (left at the 2021 Masters)
But Harmon insisted this could be the year McIlroy finally puts an end to his Masters nightmare and open the floodgate to many more major wins.
‘We all want to see Rory win because we’d like to see him complete the lifetime Grand Slam,’ the legendary coach said. ‘I think that would be phenomenal.
‘He seems to be playing a lot better to me. I think he’s swinging the club better and he’s starting to putt better.
Harmon insisted this could be the year McIlroy finally puts an end to his Masters nightmare
‘Winning breeds confidence. If you’re not winning, it’s pretty hard to be confident in what you’re doing.
‘I would love to see him win and get the monkey off his back. I think he’ll take off and start winning a lot of majors again, but this one is a lot of pressure for him.
‘If he can get slip on the Green Jacket next Sunday night and he would have a tremendous amount of confidence and he could run off and win a whole bunch. But first he has got to get this one.’
While speculation swirls over Tiger’s potential return to the Masters, there is one former champion who will definitely not be making the drive down Magnolia Lane.
Phil Mickelson is set to miss the Masters for the first time since 1994 in the fallout of the controversial comments he made regarding the Saudi-backed Super Golf League.
Mired in shame, the three-time champion has retreated into a self-imposed exile after he branded the Saudis ‘scary motherf*****s’ but said he was willing to look past their human rights records to gain leverage with the PGA Tour.
Phil Mickelson is set to miss the Masters for the first time since 1994 in the wake of his comments regarding the Saudi-backed Super League
But despite his outcast reputation, Harmon believes Mickelson remains one of the most popular players in the sport and will be a miss at this year’s Masters.
‘I think he’s a big miss for any tournament, you know, he’s one of the most popular players in all of golf, has been forever,’ he said.
‘Tiger and Phil in modern times are our two most popular players and our best players. He’s won there three times and he loves the Masters. So, it is a big miss.’
Bryson DeChambeau has a knack of making headlines but he truly raised eyebrows when he made the emboldened claim that Augusta plays as a par 67 for him back in 2020.
But the big-hitter was swiftly made to eat his words as he failed to overpower Augusta as predicted and scrambled to only just make the cut.
On his own personal scorecard, DeChambeau finished 18 over par and tied for 34th place in the 2020 tournament.
After the physical transformation the American underwent to push the boundaries of the game, traditionalists would have surely been smug to see him struggle.
Bryson DeChambeau he made the claim that Augusta plays as a par 67 for him back in 2020
And Harmon, who coached the last player to up the stakes in terms of physicality – Tiger Woods – insisted DeChambeau will never prove his par 67 possible and won’t even be a factor this year.
‘No, I think he proved it’s not possible,’ Harmon said when asked if DeChambeau’s own personal par was possible. ‘He already can’t play it the way he plays.
‘I think Bryson DeChambeau is in a little bit of a limbo area. I don’t think he knows whether he wants to be at tour player a long drive champion.
‘We know that he’s had had some injuries. And I’ve said this before, he looked like he was building his swing to win now, not for the future.
‘I don’t see how anybody’s body can withstand what he was putting on his body. And his play has been very erratic and it hasn’t been consistent.
‘I don’t think his game is trending in the right direction at all, so I don’t think he’ll be a factor.’
BUTCH HARMON IS BACK AT AUGUSTA
Covid-19 forced Harmon to provide his beloved commentary for the last two tournaments from his home in Nevada. Not being there, where his father won the Green Jacket in 1948, hurt him.
When the 86th Masters tees up this week, Harmon will be back where he belongs. Here are his thoughts on what to expect.
Butch on… TIGER WOODS
What the hell is taller than Everest, because that is what he’s climbing! If he plays and plays respectably, makes the cut maybe, gets in the hunt a little, it’s even bigger than when he came back and won in 2019. It’s amazing he’s still alive, let alone playing.
Butch on… Rory McIlroy
We all want to see Rory win because we would like to see him complete the lifetime Grand Slam. He’s swinging the club better and he’s starting to putt better. If he can slip on that green jacket he could run off with a whole bunch of majors.
Butch on… DeChambeau
He has proved it’s not possible to overpower Augusta. He can hardly play it, the way he plays. He is in a little bit of a limbo area right now. I don’t think he knows whether he wants to be a Tour player or a long drive champion. I don’t think his game is trending in the right direction at all.
Butch on… Mickelson
He’s a big miss for any tournament. He’s one of the most popular players in all of golf. Tiger and Phil in modern times are our two best and most popular players. He has won this tournament three times and he loves the Masters, so it is a big miss.
Butch on… Augusta
The Masters is such a special place for me. My dad won in 1948, I’ve been going there my whole life. I would go to every major with my dad. You just walked down the fairway with the players. My father and Ben Hogan were best friends so they played every practice round together and it became a ritual.
Butch on… who will win
It’s wide open. Scottie Scheffler is No1 in the world. He has only won three times. None of the superstars have won any tournament.
Just look at the guys not at the Masters this year: Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson. There is a changing of the guard. There is a lot of great young players and that is why it’s hard to pick a winner for this year’s Masters.
By James Sharpe
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