From the roars originating deep in the pines and the general elevated buzz of excitement, one might have thought Arnie’s Army was on the move again at Augusta National, another final-round charge by the king of the game stirring the masses.

But, no, this was only Wednesday, only a practice round on a damp, humid morning, nothing really at stake except maybe a few gambling dollars among players preparing for Thursday’s opening round of the Masters.

No matter. Anticipation was at a high pitch, even for Augusta. The Man was on the course.

“I hear he’s on 14,” someone said. “No, just made it to 15,” said his pal, perhaps with better reconnaissance despite the club’s general ban on cellphones. “We better hurry.”

The crowds, of course, were locked on target for Tiger Woods, who was back on Augusta’s high ground, much to the surprise of most of the golf world. Only a week or so ago, the idea that Woods might show up at Augusta – especially with his clubs – was looked at as a fable. Few knew the status of his game, still a rework-in-progress after his car crash 14 months ago.

But then he appeared, and then said he probably would play, and then said he thought he could win, and the firmament of the golf world shook. 

Tiger Woods is back at Augusta. And playing well.


A throng of spectators, having heard of Woods’ arrival on the 18th tee during Wednesday’s practice round, crowded around the green on the final hole to see if it all was real. He rounded the bend on the hill on the way to the green, walking beside pals Fred Couples and Justin Thomas. Woods lined up his approach in the middle of the fairway and made the familiar swing. Couples and Thomas had hit shots short of the green, but Woods’ ball landed about 10 feet from the pin, on the front part of the green. The crowd roared as if he had eagled the hole on Sunday.

He was back. For real.

A dad picked up his young son and held him high. “Look, there he is,” he said, as Woods walked up the fairway toward the green, slowing a slight limp but otherwise seeming comfortable. “It’s Tiger. I told you he was here.”

The kid had on a Tiger shirt. He looked about 4 years old and seemed a bit befuddled by the managed chaos erupting around him.

He was not alone. Experts across the golf world were stepping all over themselves this week to confess amazement that Woods was back on Augusta National’s hills, aiming for another green jacket. After his horrific car accident in February 2021, people in the know questioned whether he would walk again. The idea of returning to competitive golf was fairytale stuff. A police officer on the scene of the crash had announced that Woods was lucky to be alive.

Now, walking on a right leg pieced together by the best medical magicians available, Woods wants what he has always chased – excellence and victory, not just playing for the sake of playing. 

That’s why he said Tuesday that, yes, he could win. And those who have seen him play in recent days believe it, too. His ball-striking, short game, and putting seem to be at competitive levels; the question now centers around his endurance and whether his new body is up to the challenge of four up-and-down rounds over Augusta’s hills and dales. 

If Wednesday’s environment is any indication, he’ll have Augusta’s masses behind him. Around the course, he was at the center of hundreds of conversations.

For much of the golf world this week, the moment belongs to Woods, and, considering the revival that has taken place in his life and game, the moment should be his.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.