Tiger Woods’ mania is running high with the Masters game decision looming

Monday felt like Sunday.

Tiger Woods can do that to a place.

The first day of practice rounds at the Masters is usually very lively, but mostly with thousands of spectators – they call them patrons here – getting their first glimpse of Augusta National, walking the holes and queuing for hundreds and often thousands of dollars spend fan shop.

But this Monday felt markedly different as Woods almost miraculously returned to the iconic tournament after a disastrous car accident in February 2021 that nearly cost him his right leg, or perhaps his life.

Not long ago, the big question was whether Woods, the winner of 15 major championships, would be able to play golf with his son again — let alone test his legs for the 2022 Masters.

But there he was, stepping in step with Justin Thomas and Fred Couples and preparing for another comeback story for the ages. He walked a little stiffer than in the past, slightly favoring his right leg, but still more fluidly than most other 46-year-old people on the planet.

Equally remarkable was what transpired off the ropes, with visitors standing five to six meters down from tee to green in hopes of getting a glimpse of history.

“Just when you thought he couldn’t push the heights of TigerMania any higher, he comes here and turns a sleepy Monday into Woodstock,” said Damon Hack, co-host of Golf Channel’s “Golf Today,” as he left his set join on the first fairway to the following.

Woods played the front nine, and when he was done late in the afternoon, thousands of guests flocked to the exits as if Disneyland had closed for the day.

His competitors are also swept away by the overarching question of the week: does he or does he not play?

“It’s exciting that there’s a possibility of him playing this week,” said Adam Scott, who won the Masters in 2013. “I really hope he does. I think no matter what, it would just be epic.”

There is some wistful speculation circulating that Woods will play caddy with his 13-year-old son Charlie in Wednesday’s par-3 tournament. On the other hand, why train the legs more than necessary?

Cell phones aren’t allowed at Augusta National, but cameras are allowed for the three-day practice rounds, so hundreds of people snapped footage of Woods. To commemorate the moment fans posed for photos with the world’s most famous golfer in the background, pointing at him as they would the Eiffel Tower.

Tiger Woods tees off at the sixth hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament.

Tiger Woods tees off at the sixth hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament with crowds of fans.

(Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

It started as Woods was warming up as hundreds of people watched him blast balls out of a practice bunker, with most of his shots landing in a trophy beach towel. They applauded as he stepped out of the white sand and made his way to the practice tees. The spectators on the driving range clapping and cheering only rarely.

A jovial Woods then quickly worked his way through his bag on the practice tees, from short irons to long.

“Driver’s out of the bag,” remarked one of the professional photographers when Woods graduated. The excited murmur tipped other members of the media to speedwalk to the course – no running – because Woods and a massive crowd of spectators would soon follow.

The golf course was like a giant shoebox, and wherever Woods went, it was as if someone was tipping that box and tapping it.

He disappeared from the practice ground into the clubhouse, then reappeared on the other side to shouts of “Tigers!” and “There he is!” He then spent a few minutes putting on the putting green where he was cheered on at a 2019 Masters championship celebration three years ago.

For Collin Morikawa, world no. 3, his first Masters memory was watching Woods win the tournament for the first time in 1997. And Morikawa’s favorite memory of it was watching Woods win his fifth green jacket in 2019.

“I was in college,” said Morikawa, 25, of La Cañada Flintridge, a then University of California student. “We all sat together, we watched it. I mean, this Sunday was booked up for nothing to do but watch TV.”

Fred Couples, left, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods walk down the sixth fairway during a Masters practice round.

Fred Couples, left, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods walk down the sixth fairway during a practice round for the Masters. Woods seemed to be doing well on the hilly course.

(Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Monday’s story was markedly different, but the scene was familiar as Woods grazed his drive midway through the first tee and then passed his first test by pacing down and up the undulating fairway. He was a bit hunched as he chugged up the hill, a climb that apparently took more effort than in years past, but considering what he’s been through, it was still remarkable.

“I think he’s a good example that life isn’t always perfect so it’s really exciting to see him at his heights,” said Patrick Cantlay, the former UCLA star making his sixth Masters appearance Has.

“And so I hope he can serve and play well this week and obviously that’s the biggest thing for our sport. There’s definitely a different feeling in tournaments where he serves.”

Even on Mondays. Tiger Woods’ mania is running high with the Masters game decision looming

Andrew Schnitker

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