From the first tee to the 18th hole, the Augusta National Golf Course measures about five miles worth of undulating landscape, hills and slopes all over the place. It is a glorious setting with the blossoming greenery creating a picturesque setting.
That is unless, of course, you have to walk it and play each hole, drive the ball, get to the green, size up the distance to the hole and deliver the putt. And you have to walk it because golf carts are not permitted on the pastoral grounds of Augusta National.
That makes it is a daunting challenge, especially if you are walking it with a rod and screws, pins and plates holding your right leg together.
That is Tiger Woods’ condition after the awful car crash that nearly took his life 14 months ago. Doctors considered amputating his leg. That’s how badly it was mangled in the accident. His tibia and fibula were broken in multiple places, his foot and ankle crushed.
Woods spent months in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries, learning to walk again. Progress came painstakingly slowly. There were long days supported by crutches as he regained mobility.
Eventually, he was able to navigate on his own and he thought he might someday be able to play competitive golf again. It is a sport he once dominated, a part of its storied history with 82 tournament victories, tied with Sam Snead for the PGA Tour record, and 15 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus’ 18.
His trophy case includes five green jackets, symbols of his victories at Augusta and the Masters. He knows the course inside and out and he loves the tournament that he once dominated. And when he thought about another Masters, he thought why not?
So, there he was on the first day of this treasured event, standing at the first tee, ready to embark on a most unlikely trip over this cathedral of golf. He came into the tournament ranked No. 973, a function of not playing a PGA Tour event in 17 months. No. 973 usually attracts a limited gallery of friends and family. Tiger Woods attracted a mob of Augusta’s patrons, wondering if he could do this.
They learned he could.
He walked the five miles, a bit haltingly, with a trace of a limp every so often, but he made the trip successfully. He shot a 1-under par 71 in his first round of this elite event, 408 days after nearly being killed in the car crash.
He made the cut with a 74 the next day, assuring himself of another 10 miles of walking Saturday and Sunday.
Tiger Woods was back in the hunt.