AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fred Couples had no plans to play on Monday. Then he got a text Sunday night.
“Dude, we’re playing at 3:00 tomorrow, see you on the tee.”
Couples couldn’t say no to Tiger Woods.
Just at 2:45 pm local time, the 1992 Masters champion was joined on the first tee by the five-time Masters winner and the 2017 PGA champion Justin Thomas.
Patrons 5-10 deep enclosed the entire first hole, the first indication that this wasn’t going to be any ordinary Monday afternoon practice round at the Masters. In fact, Sunday Masters arrived six days early as the galleries and the waves of people following Woods and their playing partners were as large as ever seen at Augusta National Golf Club.
Few if any were disappointed. Especially Couples.
“He looked phenomenally,” Couples said after the nine holes. “He’s my favorite guy. What impresses me the most is he was bombing it for one. If you want to talk golf, he was bombing it. I know JT is not the longest hitter on the Tour, but I know he’s damn long. He was with him flushing it.
“It’s a Monday, right, but he didn’t miss many shots.”
Woods showed no signs of injury – there was no grimacing, no limping. The scorecard didn’t matter as Woods was more concerned with putting his right leg through another test for what he hopes is the ultimate exam come Thursday in the 86th edition of the Masters.
The 15-time major champion last played an official event in the 2020 November Masters where he tied for 38th. Three months later, he was involved in a high-speed, single-car crash north of Los Angeles that nearly took his life and severely injured his right leg and foot; amputation was considered.
After being bed-ridden for four months, unable to walk, Woods slowly has worked his way back. Riding a cart for 36 holes, Woods played with his son, Charlie, in the PNC Championship in December and the two finished second.
Woods has been playing regularly at The Medalist near his Jupiter, Florida, compound. He has walked many of his rounds from him.
Last Tuesday he flew up to play 18 holes at Augusta National with his son and Thomas. On Sunday, he played the back nine at Augusta National.
For the record, he missed two of seven fairways in regulation and three greens on Monday. His best performance came on the uphill, par-5 eighth hole when he reached in two to set up a 30-foot eagle putt. He missed. Then again, he had no serious intent with his putts on the balls in play.
However, at each hole, he spent a considerable amount of time chipping and putting to different quadrants on each green.
Woods did not speak afterward. He meets with the media at 11 am Tuesday.
“He didn’t putt much, but it’s Tiger Woods, he knows how to putt, he knows how to play this course,” Couples said. “And the driver was a machine. He hit it in the bunker on 2 but he smoked it, drove it pin high almost on 3. He looks great. The sound of the ball – so I’m comparing it to JT who’s a top-two, top-three player in the world. They both looked good. JT looked very good, too.”
Couples have battled back issues for more than 30 years. He understands back pain and can commiserate with Woods on that issue. Yet he’s still impressed what Woods has done since the car crash.
“What he had was back issues, a few operations and then a horrific car accident,” Couples said. “He’s the first to tell you; I’m lucky to be alive, lucky to be with my kids, and now he’s playing.
“I don’t know the right words. It’s not shocking because he’s the greatest player to ever play. You give him a couple good legs and he swings like this, but now comes the walking part of it, and I’m not a guy that’s going to guesstimate on that. I watched it today, it looked phenomenal.
“To hit it like that, now it’s just the walking part. If he can walk around here in 72 holes, he’ll contend.”