Tiger Woods faces a battle with the course and his own unusually low expectations heading into the 87th Masters at Augusta National.
Woods has always insisted that winning was his only reason for entering a tournament, even when making one of his numerous comebacks from lengthy injury lay-offs.
That was the case in 2022 when he competed in the Masters less than 14 months after suffering severe injuries in a car accident, the 15-time major winner simply answering “I do” when asked if he believed he could win.
But a year on Woods was noticeably less bullish in his pre-tournament press conference, talking more about being able to “appreciate the time that I have here and cherish the memories.”
“You know, if he didn’t have to walk up these hills and have all of that, I’d say he’d be one of the favourites,” Rory McIlroy said after a nine-hole practice round with Woods.
“He’s got all of the shots. It’s just that physical limitation of walking 72 holes, especially on a golf course as hilly as this.”
While Woods is among the early starters on Thursday, McIlroy faces a lengthy wait before getting his ninth bid to complete the career grand slam by winning the Masters under way.
McIlroy, who finished second to Scottie Scheffler last year after a stunning closing 64, is due to tee off in the penultimate group at 1348 local time (1848 BST), with Scheffler starting 12 minutes earlier in his bid to join Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus in winning back-to-back titles.
Is there anything new for 2022?
The par-five 13th has, after many years of speculation, been lengthened by 35 yards in an attempt to reintroduce what Augusta National’s co-designer Bobby Jones called the “momentous decision” to go for the green in two. Masters chairman Fred Ridley admitted that more players opting to lay up could result in less excitement, but believes a player in contention taking on the shot with a long iron in the final round will ultimately prove it was the right move.
Who are the favourites?
The top three players in the world rankings sharing favouritism may suggest a lack of imagination from the bookmakers, but it is hard to argue with their logic. Defending champion Scheffler has finished 19th, 18th and first in his three appearances to date and has won twice this season. McIlroy won in Dubai in January – as Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia did before their Masters triumphs in 2016 and 2017 respectively – and was runner-up 12 months ago thanks to a closing 64. Jon Rahm had four straight top 10s before last year’s tie for 27th and won three times in five events earlier this season.
Key tee times
1324 BST – Sandy Lyle, Jason Kokrak, Talor Gooch.
1518 BST – Tiger Woods, Viktor Hovland, Xander Schauffele.
1836 BST – Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Sam Bennett.
1848 BST – Rory McIlroy, Sam Burns, Tom Kim.
1900 BST – Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, Tony Finau.
Patchy fog was a possibility towards daybreak but would likely burn off between 8–9am. A few showers and thunderstorms will develop ahead of a frontal boundary after 3pm. This front is expected to slowly move through central Georgia on Friday, with scattered morning showers becoming more numerous in the afternoon.