The eyes of the sporting world will be on Tiger Woods when he tees off at the Masters Tournament on Thursday and the four-time winner has declared it’s great to be back.
Woods electrified the world of golf here at Augusta National in 1997 when in his Major Championship debut as a professional, he won the first of his 14 Majors by an astonishing 12 shots.
The last of his Major triumphs came in 2008 at the US Open as a combination of personal issues and knee and back injuries threatened to derail one of the greatest careers the game has ever seen.
Woods admitted he did not expect to ever be able to swing a club at the speed he used to but after back fusion surgery last year and two consecutive top fives on the US PGA Tour he, incredibly, plays his first Masters since 2015 as one of the favourites.
So can he pull off what some are saying could be the greatest sporting comeback off all time?
I’ve got to go play and then let the chips fall where they may, and hopefully I end up on top – Tiger Woods
“Well, I have four rounds to play, so let’s just kind of slow down,” he said.
“I’ve had anticipation like this prior. If you remember the build‑up was from the PGA of 2000 to the Masters of 2001, nine months of building up, what that tournament would mean, and it’s the same thing.
“I’ve got to go play and then let the chips fall where they may, and hopefully I end up on top. But I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.
“I feel great. I feel like I’ve really put a lot of pieces together. We have worked on what body parts to get stronger, what body parts need to be more limber and I feel fantastic.
“It’s just a matter of now going out there and competing and playing and posting numbers.
“I really hope I’m playing my best golf. This is a tournament I think that where experience does help a lot.
“I have played here and I’ve won here not playing my absolute best, but there’s got to be a certain part of my game that’s on. I think that this tournament really helps with having the experience and really understanding how to play this particular golf course.”
Woods admits that some of his comeback attempts in recent seasons were rushed and while he has revealed his pain at not teeing it up here at Augusta since 2015, he believes he is now ready to compete again.
“In hindsight it was a big pipe dream,” he said. ” My back was fried.
“I was trying, whether it was cortisone shots, epidurals, anything to take away the pain so maybe I might be able to withstand a week. Nothing worked. My disk was gone.
We want to compete. We want to get out there and mix it up and part of being an athlete is dealing with pain – Tiger Woods
“So given how I feel now versus then, I mean, it’s just night and day. Just how I felt coming here for the Dinner and when I left, and now that I’m walking this golf course and playing and hitting shots and not having to think about anything, obviously it’s been less than a year since my back procedure.
“It’s been a tough road. The pain of just sitting there and the amount of times that I’ve fallen because my leg didn’t work or I just had to lay on the ground for extended periods of times. Those are some really dark, dark times.
“The reason why I say I’m a walking miracle is that I don’t know if anyone who has had a lower-back fusion can swing the club as fast as I can swing it. That’s incredible. It is a miracle.
“We want to compete. We want to get out there and mix it up and part of being an athlete is dealing with pain. Unfortunately, we’re pushing the boundaries of our bodies and minds and unfortunately a lot of times we go over the edge and we break down.
“But thank God there’s modern science to fix us and put us back together again.”