Tiger Woods is playing the Masters, and he’s playing to win

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​AUGUSTA, Ga. – The answer was painfully obvious, but the question still needed to be asked anyway.

Do you think you can win?

“I do.”

Tiger Woods is here, after all.

And it was as if he had never left, as if the past 14 grueling months didn’t happen, as if he hadn’t suffered career-threatening injuries in that one-car accident in Southern California on Feb. 23, 2021.

Even for an athlete who has been battling injuries for the better part of two decades, this has been a hellacious year. The hospital stint when he said doctors considered amputation. The months of inactivity at home. The transition from wheelchair to crutches to short walks. The painful recovery, the tedious rehab, the frustrating lack of progress.

Tiger believes he can win the Masters

“I’ve worked hard,” he said, but hard work has never been a deterrent. It’s the challenge that drives him. Rory McIlroy said Woods doesn’t just like proving people wrong – he likes proving himself wrong, too. And without 72 holes to satiate him, recovery milestones became the competition – and he’s about to win a major one.

“Nobody has a work ethic and determination like him,” Justin Thomas said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of setting your mind to something and setting a goal for yourself and proving to yourself and everybody that you can do it. It’s unbelievable the stuff he can do given everything.”

Woods is playing in this 86th Masters. Officially, he was a “game-time decision.” Then his status was upgraded Tuesday, when he told us that “as of right now” his plan was to compete. But there’s no need to be coy.

He doesn’t play 27 holes in one day last week if he isn’t playing.

He doesn’t show up to grind here for three consecutive days if he isn’t playing.

Full-field tee times from the 86th Masters Tournament

He doesn’t endure the hours and hours of pre- and post-round treatment and therapy just to show up here, slap it around for a few days, think, Nah, can’t do it, and jet home.

He’s playing.

And if Tiger Woods is playing, well, then Tiger Woods believes he can win.

“I can hit it just fine,” he said. “I don’t have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint.”

That much has been evident in the three days of practice here at Augusta National. He has plenty of pop. His ball speed is back in that sweet spot, in the mid-170s. He can vary his trajectories. Shape shots both ways. Rely on a wide array of nifty short-game shots and a rock-solid putting stroke that, after so much time away, seem as sharp as ever.

“It’s plenty, plenty good enough to play well,” Thomas said.

Added Fred Couples: “He looked phenomenal.”

As ever.

But that’s not the challenge.

“It’s the walking that is the hard part,” Woods said. “This is not normally an easy walk to begin with. Now, given the condition that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult. You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it’s going to be a tough challenge, and it’s a challenge that I’m up for.”

Tiger explains recovery going into practice for the Masters

He has showed that willingness over his long, legendary and injury-riddled career. The 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. The comeback season after fusion surgery. The 2019 Masters when he was worked on into the wee hours of the night and then early in the morning, when it all came together for that fifth green jacket. Now, after the accident, after the traumatic injuries, after he sustained open fractures to both the upper and lower portions of his right leg and needed a metal rod to stabilize it, his physiotherapists and trainers have an even more exhaustive task. They’ve all done it before. And they’re all up for it again.

“It’s not something I haven’t done,” Woods said, “but the times have gotten longer on both sides.”

And the pain?

He chuckled to himself. “Yeah, there is,” he said. “There is each and every day.”

And he’ll play through pain here, too, though how much Woods is unlikely to ever say, the product of his military upbringing. He’ll feel it everywhere at Augusta National: on uphill lies, downhill lies, sidehill lies. He’ll feel it scaling the eighth, ninth and 18th fairways. He’ll feel it heading down the second, 10th and 15th fairways. As he said Tuesday, the only level lies here are the 18 tee boxes.

Treatment can alleviate some of the inflammation, and those metal FootJoy spikes can offer ankle stability, but this is Woods’ new reality. His doctors have told him that eventually he’ll feel better and play in less discomfort. But the mobility issues will remain, probably forever. It hasn’t hampered his play. Not yet, anyway.

“I feel like I can still compete at the highest level,” he said. “If I feel like I can still win, I’m going to play. If I feel like I can’t, then you won’t see me out here.

“I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it. That’s the attitude I’ve had. There will be a day when it won’t happen, and I’ll know when that is, but physically the challenge this week is I don’t have to worry about the ball-striking or the game of golf – it’s actually just the hills out here. That’s going to be the challenge, and it’s going to be a challenge of a major marathon.”

Woods was asked what constitutes a successful week at the Masters, and he allowed himself at least a moment of reflection.

“I think that the fact I was able to get myself here to this point is a success,” he said.

He shouted out his surgeons and his physiotherapists and his trainers just for allowing him the opportunity to continue his career at age 46, against all odds.

“Thankful,” he said. “Very, very thankful.”

But now that he’s here, now that he’s 48 hours from game time, now that it’s obvious that he’s not just going to play but probably play well … he had little trouble shifting into hyper-competitive mode.

“I feel like I can still do it,” he said.

And it’d be unwise to doubt him.

Presidents Cup singles recaps: U.S. clinches 12th win in 14 tries

2022 Presidents Cup - Day Four
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Trevor Immelman’s International team began the week at Quail Hollow Club outmanned and as massive underdogs before digging themselves a big hole. But for a moment on Sunday, it looked as if the visitors would dig themselves out of it.

That was until the Americans shut the door, winning the Presidents Cup for the 12th time in 14 events.

After winning Saturday afternoon’s fourball session, the Internationals entered Sunday trailing by four points and needing to win at least 8 1/2 of a possible 12 points in singles to pull off the upset. They gave it their all, too, at one point pushing the projected final score to just 16-14.

But Tony Finau flipped an important match versus Taylor Pendrith and Xander Schauffele hung on after letting Corey Conners tie their match after being 3 down on the back nine. Add in some match-tying going on toward the bottom of the tee sheet and that was enough to kill any momentum the Internationals had.

Schauffele then secured the clinching point with a 1-up win over Conners.

Here is a match-by-match recap of Sunday’s singles matches (as they finish) in Charlotte, North Carolina:

Match 19: Si Woo Kim (INT) def. Justin Thomas (U.S.), 1 up

This one was chippy. Thomas led for much of the way, turning in 2 up. But Kim birdied Nos. 10 and 11 from 20 and 11 feet, respectively, to tie the match. A couple holes later, with Thomas back to 1 up, Kim made Thomas putt from inside of 3 feet to tie No. 13, and the decision clearly miffed Thomas, who rolled in the par. Kim won the next hole with par and then shushed the crowd after matching Thomas’ par make at No. 15. Kim and Thomas traded holes at Nos. 16 and 17, the latter won by Thomas after he stuck his approach to 3 feet. It looked as if the two would play to a half-point, but Kim birdied the par-4 18th hole from 10 feet while Thomas missed from 9 feet to drop to 17-5-3 in Cup matches. Kim earned his third point of the week.


Match 20: Jordan Spieth (U.S.) def. Cam Davis (INT), 4 and 3

Early on, it appeared as if Spieth’s Cup singles struggles would continue as Spieth, 0-6-1 in the format between the Presidents and Ryder cups, fell 2 down after two holes. But Spieth holed 20-plus-foot birdie putts on Nos. 4 and 5 (from the fringe) to tie the match. He added a 27-foot par make at the par-5 seventh to remain even with the rookie Aussie, who bogeyed the ninth after retaking the lead with par at No. 8. That allowed Spieth to take momentum to the back nine, where he birdies Nos. 11-13 to win those holes and take a commanding lead that he wouldn’t surrender. His win capped a 5-0 week as Spieth became just the sixth player in event history to accomplish the feat and the first American since Jim Furyk in 2011. “I was more nervous than I probably should’ve been today,” Spieth said, “but I really wanted to get that monkey off my back.”


Match 21: Sam Burns (U.S.) tied Hideki Matsuyama (INT)

Burns capped his debut Cup with an 0-3-2 performance, but he played much better than that record indicates. He was 2 down on the front nine to Matsuyama before birdieing Nos. 10-12 to take his first lead of the match. The birdie on No. 10 came from nearly 50 feet. Burns gave the lead away at the par-4 15th hole as Matsuyama won it with bogey, but the American managed to sneak away with an important half-point after Matsuyama’s birdie chip at the par-4 finishing hole hit the flagstick and stayed out.


Match 22: Patrick Cantlay (U.S.) def. Adam Scott (INT), 3 and 2

Cantlay jumped on the veteran Aussie by making two birdie bombs at Nos. 2 and 3 (from 20 and 27 feet, respectively). Scott bogeyed the par-3 fourth to go 3 down and couldn’t claw back to better than 2 down as he won just two holes all match. Cantlay sealed the win – and a three-point week personally – after Scott lipped out a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th hole and Cantlay rolled in a short par putt.


Match 23: Sebastian Munoz (INT) def. Scottie Scheffler (U.S.), 2 and 1

Scheffler played the first seven holes like a man on a mission to secure his first full point of the event. He carded two birdies and led 2 up at that point. But Munoz won Nos. 8-10 to flip the match. Both played traded 60-foot eagle bombs at No. 11, and Munoz kept Scheffler at arm’s length, birdieing three of his next six holes while winning No. 15 and 17 to send the world No. 1 home at 0-3-1.


Match 24: Tony Finau (U.S.) def. Taylor Pendrith (INT), 3 and 1

Each player led 2 up at one point in a back-and-forth fight. Finau won the first two holes before Pendrith got them right back and then some, winning four of the next five holes – three with birdies – to take a 2-up lead of his own. But Finau didn’t give up. He birdies Nos. 11-13 to retake the lead and made some crucial putts – 13-foot and 15-foot birdie makes at Nos. 16-17, respectively – to put Pendrith away.


Match 25: Xander Schauffele (U.S.) def. Corey Conners (INT), 1 up

Schauffele did everything he could to give a point to the struggling Conners, but the Canadian ultimately couldn’t take advantage. He went 0-3 in team play and then carded five bogeys and double against Schauffele. The American led 3 up after winning No. 10 with par, but then lost Nos. 12-14 by playing that stretch in 2 over. He appeared to be on his way to losing No. 15, too, after driving his ball into the water. But he hit an incredible third shot from 220 yards out and an awkward lie to 11 feet and made par to win the hole. Conners squandered a big chance at the par-4 17th hole, missing a 5-foot par putt that would’ve won the hole. By tying the hole, Schauffele guaranteed himself at least a half-point, which would get the Americans to 15 points – enough to retain the Cup. Schauffele tied the last to win 1 up and get the clinching full point.

Rory McIlroy overcomes six-stroke deficit, claims FedExCup title and $18 million

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Rory McIlroy claimed his third FedExCup title by capturing the Tour Championship on Sunday. McIlroy overcame a six-stroke final-round deficit to Scottie Scheffler to claim the $18-million bonus.

Scheffler began the final stanza with a heavy advantage, thanks to a fantastic finish to the third round Sunday morning.

After play was suspended Saturday evening because of an inclement weather threat, the field returned to East Lake at 9:45 a.m. to wrap Round 3. Scheffler and Xander Schauffele, in the final group and separated by one shot, were in the 13th fairway when play resumed. Scheffler played his final six holes in 4 under to reach 23 under par. Schauffele played them in 1 over to drop to 17 under.

McIlroy wrapped up a third-round 63 to also reach 17 under and grab a spot in the final-round final twosome.

Both he and Scheffler bogeyed the first hole, but while Scheffler continued to slip, McIlroy steadily rose. The Northern Irishman made four birdies over the remainder of his opening nine to turn in 3-under 32. Scheffler, meanwhile, posted a 37. The difference was one.

Following a McIlroy birdie at the 12th, they were knotted.

Im was also in contention through much of the final round. He got within a shot of the lead before a double bogey at the par-4 14th.  Im made a couple of late birdies to again climb within one of the lead, but he was unable to birdie the par-5 18th, settling for a 66 and a 20-under finish.

Im, ultimately, was chasing McIlroy. After McIlroy bogeyed the 14th to drop one back of Scheffler, he rolled in a 31-foot birdie at the par-3 15th to draw even at 21 under. McIlroy then scrambled for par at the 16th, while Scheffler made bogey.

With two holes to play, McIlroy led by one.

Scheffler had a chance to regain a share of the lead at the par-4 17th, but after sticking his approach shot to 12 feet, he badly shoved the birdie effort and made par. With one hole to play – and an $11.5 million difference between first and second place – McIlroy maintained the slight edge.

Both players hit the fairway at the 18th, Scheffler driving it 334 yards and McIlroy 342. Hitting first, Scheffler found a bunker short and right of the green. McIlroy followed by hooking his second from 228 yards off the left grandstands.

Again playing first, Scheffler blasted his bunker shot over the green. McIlroy was able to get relief from the grandstand and chipped to 20 feet. After Scheffler was unable to chip in for birdie, McIlroy just needed to two-putt for par to secure victory. He did that easily. Scheffler settled for par and a T-2 alongside Im.