After all the hype and speculation, after his private jet’s trip from Florida to Georgia was followed on social media, it took 12 words for Tiger Woods to finally tell the golf world what he desperately wanted to hear.

“Right now I feel like I’m going to play,” Woods said in a packed interview room at Augusta National ahead of the 86th Masters.

When asked if he thinks he can win a 16th major title and a sixth green jacket on Sunday, Woods only needed two words. “Yes,” he replied with conviction.

It was a predictable response from a player who has only ever been interested in winning, but quite remarkable that a relaxed and smiling Woods was able to utter it following the serious injuries he suffered in a horrible car accident less than 14 months ago.

Shortly after the accident in Los Angeles, Woods feared his right leg would be amputated and admitted he would never return to a full-time PGA Tour playing schedule.

The fact that he was able to compete in the PNC Championship with his son Charlie 10 months after the accident raised hopes that Woods could once again defy the odds, hopes that came true when he flew with Charlie and Justin Thomas for a practice lap at Augusta last. week.

Ahead of nine practice holes on Sunday, Woods said it would be a “time of the game” decision whether he plays on Thursday, with that decision coming after another nine holes on Monday.

“My recovery has been good,” Woods said. “I’ve been very excited with how I recovered every day, and that’s been the challenge. That’s why I came here and tested it over 27 holes – because we played the par three course. Charlie couldn’t help it.

“There’s pain every day obviously, given what I’ve been through with my back and obviously with my right leg.

“The fact that I was able to get here at this stage has been a success and now that I’m playing it’s all focused on getting this position on the back nine on Sunday with a chance like I did there. a few years ago.

“I feel like I can still do it. I still have the hands to do it, the body moves quite well. I’ve been in worse situations and won tournaments. Now I haven’t been in situations like this where I had to walk and endure what I’m going to try to endure, it’s going to be different.

Tiger Woods hits the driving range shortly before Augusta National closed due to bad weather (Charlie Riedel/AP)

“But my back surgeries that I’ve had before and the things that I’ve had to go through, even going back to the US Open when my leg broke a bit, those are all the times I can lean on where I’ve been successful, how I’ve learned to block things out and focus on what I need to focus on.

It was a reference to winning the 2008 US Open despite a double stress fracture and knee injury which prompted season-ending surgery, while he also won the 2019 Masters two years after saying to Jack Nicklaus “I’m done” before undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

In 2019, Woods refuted suggestions that his comeback was the greatest of all time, citing the fact that Ben Hogan had won six of his nine major titles, including the three he could contest in 1953, after his wife Valérie survived a head-on collision. with a Greyhound bus in February 1949.

The accident left Hogan in hospital for two months with a double fractured pelvis, broken collarbone, broken left ankle, chipped rib and near-fatal blood clots.

Ben Hogan
Ben Hogan, arriving with his wife at Prestwick Airport for the 1953 Open Championship (PA Archive)

“The treatments have improved so much and I’m very grateful for that because if I had to suffer my accident in his (Hogan) time, I wouldn’t be playing this week for sure,” Woods added.

Barring a late relapse, Woods will indeed play this week, although he insisted he would have been happy with his career tallies of 82 PGA Tour titles and 15 majors if he didn’t. couldn’t come back.

“Yeah, I would have,” Woods said. “I think 82 is a pretty good number and 15 isn’t too bad either.

“I love competition and I feel like if I can still compete at the highest level I’ll do it, and if I feel like I can still win I’ll play. But if I have the feel like I can’t, so you won’t see me here. You know me better than that.

“I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it. So that’s the attitude I had.

“There will be a day when it doesn’t, and I will know that, but physically the challenge this week is that I don’t have to worry about the ball hitting or the game of golf, it’s actually just the hills here.

“It’s going to be the challenge, and it’s going to be the challenge of a big marathon.”