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COMMENTARY: Could have died. Nearly lost a leg. Tiger Woods playing Masters means he has already won

It is quite incredible, but not surprising — that Woods, at 46 and well past his prime, still would have this power over his sport. Still be the biggest thing in it. Even when not winning. Even when not playing.

The Masters
Tiger Woods walks on the 16th green during a practice round Wednesday, April 6, 2022, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, home of The Masters.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
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MIAMI — Twenty-five years ago he introduced himself to America with spectacular, historic dominance, winning the Masters by a record 12 strokes. It was epic. We watched with an awareness we were witnessing something far bigger than just a golf tournament. He was lifting millions, changing a sport.

What Tiger Woods is attempting this week is nearly as impressive.

It might be more so, because now he is fighting time, and everything else.

He is 46. Less than 14 months ago his car careened down a steep embankment near Los Angeles in a single-car accident that could have killed him. His right leg and foot were gruesomely mangled. Doctors were close to amputating.

“It’s altered,” Woods described it six weeks ago. “My right leg does not look like my left leg, let’s put it that way.”

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That his comeback is happening this week in the Masters, back at Augusta, seems surreal, almost impossible. And yet likely.

It was only in February that Woods seemed frustrated with the inching progress of his arduous rehabilitation, and when that might find him back on the PGA Tour.

“I wish I could tell you when I’m playing again,” he said then. “I want to know, but I don’t. My golf activity has been very limited. I can chip and putt really well and hit my short irons very well, but I haven’t done any long stuff seriously. And I’m still working on the walking part. What’s frustrating is it’s not on my timetable. You add in the age factor, too. You just don’t quite heal as fast.”

Now, though, he's set to tee off Thursday at Augusta. He played a recent practice round there with his son Charlie and golf pro and close friend Justin Thomas. He was seen hitting seven drives at the range, all estimated between 280 and 310 yards.

“For him to hopefully be playing — and I think he is — we’re all giddy about it,” says fellow pro Billy Horschel.

Said Rory McIlroy last week: “For golf, for the Masters and for everyone, to have Tiger there would be phenomenal. It would be awesome.”

It is quite incredible, but not surprising — that Woods, at 46 and well past his prime, still would have this power over his sport. Still be the biggest thing in it. Even when not winning. Even when not playing.

That is the magnetic pull of a generational superstar.

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A year ago I think most of us wondered if Tiger would ever play competitively again.

Now we can’t help but recall the 2008 U.S. Open, which Woods won while playing with two stress fractures in his tibia and a torn ACL in his left knee, injuries he only later admitted.

We recall the 2019 Masters, his most recent major win and his first in 11 years, in his first tournament after a long layoff due to knee and back surgeries.

Dare we dream Woods might be able to actually win a 16th major this week? Barely a year after nearly losing a leg?

Dare we dream for a rekindling of his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors? A pursuit that seemed dead in the water after that accident?

The Masters
Tiger Woods fist pumps his caddie during a practice round Wednesday, April 6, 2022, as Fred Couples looks at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Doubting Tiger Woods is tough, isn’t it?

So is the idea of saying goodbye.

Across sports, the icons leave us but we hold on.

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Mike Krzyzeweki, Coach K, just left college basketball after 42 seasons, just short of how he wanted to.

We cheered Tom Brady’s coming out of his brief retirement, even as we wondered logically if he really should, turning 45 by the time the coming NFL season begins.

We wonder if Serena Williams, 40 and struggling to regain her health, will ever win another tennis tournament, let alone another major.

We see LeBron James, seemingly still atop his game at 37, but for how much longer? And now mired in a disappointing season that might find the Lakers not even making the playoffs.

And now comes Eldrick Tont Woods, 25 years past the kid who mesmerized America, seemingly ready to take on the demanding length and sloping terrain of our most hallowed golf cathedral. Seemingly ready to challenge time, and his body and his pride, and see if he can be what he once was, one more time, after all of this.

It is almost enough to make one believe in miracles.

The scorecard might say different by the weekend, but when Tiger Woods tees off Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club, he has already won.

©2022 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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