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.

Brooks Koepka wins third Wanamaker Trophy, fifth major title at PGA Championship


Brooks Koepka promised Sunday at Oak Hill would not be a reprise of Sunday at Augusta National.

Koepka held true to his word, shooting 3-under 67 to win the PGA Championship, finishing at 9 under, two in front of Scottie Scheffler (65) and Viktor Hovland (68).

Koepka and Hovland, playing together in the final pairing, were separated by one stroke at the par-4 16th, when Hovland hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker on the right. The previous day, leader Corey Conners was in the same spot and drilled his approach into the face of the bunker. He had to take an unplayable lie and made double bogey, losing the lead for good.

Incredibly, Hovland did the same thing on Sunday, losing any chance he had at his first major title.

Koepka, for his part, birdied the 16th and led by four shots with two to play. He closed with an innocuous bogey at the 17th and a par at the 18th.

This was Kopeka’s fifth major championship win and his third Wanamaker Trophy (2018, ’19). He joined James Braid, John Henry Taylor, Byron Nelson, Peter Thomson and Seve Ballesteros at 15th on the all-time major-victory list.

It marked his ninth career PGA Tour title and first since February 2021.

It was in that same month, a year later, that Koepka made clear his intention to remain on the PGA Tour, saying of the fledgling Saudi-led rival league, “They’ll get their guys. Somebody will sell out and go to it.”

Four months later, Koepka was one of those guys.

Koepka claimed his first of two LIV titles in October and the second in April, the week before the Masters Tournament. It was in the season’s first major where Koepka led by two shots entering the final round (after completing a delayed Round 3 early that Sunday) but closed in 75 to finish T-2 behind Jon Rahm.

This Saturday, once again with a lead through 54 holes of a major, Koepka was confident – though, coy with his reasons why – that this championship would end differently.

Or, similarly, to that of Bellerive and Bethpage Black.

It appeared that the 105th edition of the PGA was over 45 minutes after the final group teed off in the final round.

Koepka birdied three of his first four holes and led by three shots.

He was perfection personified, expertly positioning his tee shots and precisely hitting his irons. But a sliced drive off the sixth tee led to bogey and he made another at the seventh. By the turn, he was at 7 under par, one clear of Hovland with Scheffler at 4 under through 11 holes.

Scheffler managed to reach 7 under par for the championship, but never got closer than within two strokes.

It was ultimately a battle between the final two men on the course, with Koepka consistently managed to stay out front. He went birdie-bogey-birdie to start the inward half as Hovland strung together a trio of pars. The Norwegian birdied the par-5 13th and could have drawn even, but Koepka converted a slick, downhill, 10-footer for par to remain one up.

Both men made birdie at the drivable, 320-yard, par-4 14th and both men parred 15.

Then came the 16th, where Hovland thinned his second shot from the fairway sand into the bottom portion of the bunker lip. His ball embedded, Hovland took a penalty stroke and a drop. His double bogey, combined with Koepka’s birdie, ended all of the drama.

But Oak Hill was not devoid of cheers Sunday evening. Club pro Michael Block, playing alongside Rory McIlroy, had a slam-dunk hole-in-one at the par-3 15th and then made an incredible par save from well left of the 18th green. His closing 1-over 71 placed him in a tie for 15th and earned him a spot in next year’s field at Valhalla.

The last time the Louisville, Kentucky course hosted a PGA, McIlroy claimed his second Wanamaker Trophy and his fourth – and most recent – major. The Northern Irishman energized the western New York crowd this Sunday by sticking his approach shot at the first hole to a foot. The birdie got him within four of the lead, but he short-sided himself – from the fairway – at No. 2 and immediately gave the shot back. McIlroy shot 1-under 69 and tied for seventh.

While his major wait will extend to Los Angeles Country Club in June, Koepka will arrive looking for a third U.S. Open title.

And after his performances in the first two majors of the season, he will likely be the favorite.

Rahm wins his first Masters, second major

Michael Madrid / USA TODAY NETWORK

By Golf Channel’s Mercer Baggs

In the end, there was sun. The storms and the suspensions, the muck and the mud, the wind and the chill, it all gave way to a glorious Easter afternoon in Augusta, Georgia.

Basking in that fading daylight was Jon Rahm.

Rahm won the 87th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, completing 30 holes on Sunday for his second major title.

The 28-year-old Spaniard, who won the 2021 U.S. Open, added a green jacket to his collection, closing in 3-under 69. He finished four shots clear of three-time champ Phil Mickelson, who, at 52, became the oldest player in Masters history to record a top-5.

Also in second place was Brooks Koepka, the man who started an elongated Sunday with a four-shot lead. The four-time major champion played his final 30 holes in 5 over par, closing with a 75.

This is Rahm’s fourth win of the year and the 11th of his PGA Tour career. Once again, he’s world No. 1.

Golf is analogous to boxing – in ways both trite and appropriate – when individuals go head-to-head, and for the better part of two weekend days, this Masters felt like a heavyweight tilt with two of its heaviest hitters.

Only, no big punches landed for nearly a round and a half.

Rahm and Koepka began their Sunday wrapping up the seventh hole of the third round. Koepka missed an 11-foot par putt and Rahm made a 9-foot birdie putt. Koepka’s overnight advantage was cut in half, to two.

They both birdied the par-5 eighth, but neither man made a birdie over the second nine, both playing it in 2-over 38. The margin was still two entering the final round, in which one continued to fail in pulling away from the other.

That inability offered opportunity.

Some, like defending champion Scottie Scheffler and ’18 winner Patrick Reed, made cameo appearances. Others offered a more serious threat. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 champ, was within two before a pulled tee shot on 18 led to bogey.

His playing competitor, Mickelson, birdied the last – one of five birdies over his final seven holes – to shoot a 65 that was more brilliant than it was surprising. Even without a seventh major title, Mickelson triumphantly walked off the 18th green just as the final twosome was entering the second nine.

Ultimately, this was Koepka vs. Rahm. Not LIV vs. PGA Tour. Not Evil vs. Good. Just two men, playing for themselves and their legacies.

For Rahm, a chance to join Seve, Ollie and Sergio to put the red and yellow into green. For Koepka, a chance to be a claret jug away from immortality.

But after 13 birdies and an eagle in his first 44 holes, Koepka couldn’t buy one over an agonizing stretch of the next 22.

His dropped shot at the par-3 sixth cost him a share of the lead and he fell two back when Rahm birdied the par-5 eighth. Koepka never got closer. A sloppy bogey at the par-3 12th dropped him three back and, despite finally getting a red number at the par-5 13th, Rahm did the same.

The knockout blow – to revive the pugilist parallel – came one hole later, where Rahm hit a stinging cut from the pine straw to 4 feet. He made birdie while Koepka made bogey.

From there it was just a matter of not messing up and, despite a wayward tee shot on the 72nd hole, Rahm obliged. He parred his final four holes and, with a four-shot lead and safely on the green at 18, was able to enjoy the walk up the last. His family, his friends and his countryman, two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, embraced the champion of the 87th Masters before he headed to Butler Cabin to receive his green jacket.