Eyes on Tiger at Masters practice as tension builds

Eyes on Tiger at Masters practice as tension builds

AUGUSTA – Agence France-Presse
Eyes on Tiger at Masters practice as tension builds

Tiger Woods excited fans and rivals alike by practicing April 2 at the Masters, the 14-time major champion totally healthy at Augusta National for the first time in five years.

Woods, and the potential for his first major victory since the 2008 U.S. Open and first Masters win since 2005, was the talk of the course, even with a dozen other stars on peak form ahead of Thursday’s start of the year’s first major championship.

“When Tiger walked onto the range there was an anticipation and excitement from the crowd to watch him compete again,” said Britain’s Justin Rose, last year’s Masters runner-up and the 2013 US Open champion.

Woods hasn’t won a title since 2013 but after failed comebacks and four back surgeries, the last a spinal fusion, he’s a contender again at age 42.

“I got a second chance on life,” Woods said on his website. “I am a walking miracle.”

Woods shared second at the PGA Valspar Championship and fifth at Bay Hill in his Masters tuneups. “This year is going to be different,” Woods said. “This year I’m healthy. I can play and I can compete.”

Former world number one Woods, now ranked 103, practiced with Fred Couples and 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas as fans flocked to watch every shot for a hint of the magic that brought him Masters titles in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.

“When it comes to Tiger and the Tigermania that comes with it, that everyone wants to see him win and play the way he did before,” said Australian Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner. “Everyone’s kind of champing at the bit for him to get here and see how he’s moving and everything.”

Thomas, Rose and top-ranked Dustin Johnson plus multiple major winners Rory McIlroy -- seeking a career Grand Slam with a win -- and Jordan Spieth all enter the Masters playing well. But the biggest roars are for Woods.

“There’s a number of guys that are playing really nice,” Day said. “But everyone is kind of solely focused on Tiger and what he’s going to do here and seeing if he can get to number 15. “That’s fine with us. I can just focus on what I need to do to try and win. There’s going to be a buzz around Augusta this week with Tiger being on the grounds and it’s going to be exciting to see.”