AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods stood in the glorious sunlight of a Georgia spring one afternoon this past week, a lingering dose of warmth before the frigid, hellish hours ahead.
“Lots of treatments, lots of ice, lots of ice baths, just basically freezing myself to death,” Woods said of his plans before his next tee shot at Augusta National Golf Club. “That’s just part of the deal.”
Rare is the athlete whose medical history has been more scrutinized and documented — by doctors, as well as by plenty of armchair experts in tournament galleries, living rooms and the news media — over the decades. But with Woods pursuing his sixth Masters Tournament title not even 14 months after a car wreck made a leg amputation a possibility, the 46-year-old golfer’s recuperation regimen may be more important than any read of any green.
“If he can walk around here in 72 holes, he’ll contend,” said Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters winner who practiced with Woods before the tournament opened on Thursday. “He’s too good. He’s too good.”
Couples was perhaps overly optimistic when he spoke on Monday. Woods shot a spectacular 71 on Thursday and a 74 on Friday to put his score at one over par headed into the weekend. Taken together, the rounds, up and down as they were, were remarkable showings of the ferocity and grit that helped Woods to dominate his sport for years. But those pre-cut outings were expected to be the least taxing.
Woods spoke throughout the week about how he had little concern for his golfing skill, even as he openly worried about the wear and tear on a body that had its easiest days long ago.
So he and his team must spend the hours between rounds trying to achieve dueling ambitions: reducing the swelling that comes with traipsing around the topographical nightmare that is Augusta, and keeping Woods’s surgically rebuilt limb “mobile and warmed up, activated and explosive for the next day,” as he put it.
“Most sports, if you’re not feeling very good, you got a teammate to pass it off to, and they can kind of shoulder the load, or in football, one day a week,” Woods said. “Here we’ve got four straight days, and there’s no one that’s going to shoulder the load besides me. I’ve got to figure out a way to do it.”
According to Woods, he has not taken a day off from his rehabilitation efforts since he emerged from the three months in bed that followed his one-car wreck near Los Angeles in February 2021. The crash left him with open fractures of the tibia and the fibula in his right leg, and it led surgeons to add rods, plates and screws to his leg.
The subsequent recovery has required trade-offs and gambles and, in something that is not new for Woods, unshakable confidence in his own talents, thrown off as they might be.
Some changes appear somewhat easier to accept than others, like new shoes to help with stability on the course. But experts have also developed protocols for before and after rounds — “after I go ahead and break it out there, they go ahead and repair it at night,” Woods said on Friday — that have dramatically expanded the timeline that comes with playing.
Those approaches, which may stretch for hours, have left Woods with less time for, say, hitting a thousand balls a day and refining, again, the nuances of his game.
“It gets agonizing and teasing because of simple things that I would normally just go do that would take now a couple hours here and a couple hours there to prep and then wind down,” he said. “So, activity time, to do what I want to do, it adds more time on both sides of it.”
The goal, he has said, was to build up the stamina that powered him and every other winner at Augusta, to give enough relief to make competitive golf more of a possibility than a pipe dream.
But the strategies can only dull, not extinguish, the pain, which Woods said is present “each and every day.”
He insists, though, that pain is not a problem. By his account, he did not have any unexpected physical setbacks in his first days back at Augusta.
The question for Woods — and for everyone else left standing in the field at Augusta — is how long a leg already refashioned can hold up under such protracted duress. The course, lengthened this year, now stands at 7,510 yards, the longest in the history of the tournament, which was first played in 1934. Woods’s predictions have only gone so far.
“I expected to be sore and not feel my best, for sure,” Woods said on Friday. “It’s the combination. I can walk this golf course — I can put on tennis shoes and go for a walk, that’s not a problem. But going ballistically at shots and hitting shot shapes off of uneven lies, that puts a whole new challenge to it.”
He soon trudged off, presumably for another night of ice.