THAT well-worn Augusta cliché states that the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. Well, we can forget about that old chestnut. 

The 86th edition of this golfing rite of spring began at the back of 11am Georgia time yesterday when Tiger Woods confirmed that he plans on playing in the tournament he has won five times.

Fourteen months on from the frightful car crash that left him with savage, crippling injuries, Woods made the kind of seismic declaration that was on a par with the big fella up stairs bawling, ‘let there be light’.

“As of right now I feel like I am going to play,” Woods said in an eagerly anticipated press conference which really should’ve featured the epic flourish of the 20th Century Fox fanfare as a soundtrack to affairs.

Confirmation of his comeback, of course, will only be rubberstamped when he is actually announced on that first tee for his opening round tomorrow. The 46-year-old still has a further nine holes of practice to negotiate today before assessing the physical rigours and impacts of continued exertions on his vulnerable frame.

The Augusta high heid yins must be tempted to wrap him in an officially-branded Masters protective sheet for 24-hours and carry him to the first tee on a sedan chair.

All being well, though, Woods is set to launch an extraordinary comeback over a course he knows like the back of both hands. He may not have played a tour event since the Masters in 2020 but Woods’ knowledge of this particular parish is as intricate as an Ordnance Survey Map.

With the unwavering bullishness of a true winner, the 15-times major didn’t set himself modest, just-happy-to-be-here targets either. Asked if he thinks he can win this week, Woods, with a glint in his eye, replied: “I do.”

Anybody else would probably have been laughed out of town. What the competitive, never-say-die sporting mind still feels it can do and what the body will let him do remains to be seen. Woods is well aware of that and the effort he has put in during a long, on-going process of determined, defiant rehabilitation continues to be exhausting. 

“That's the hard part,” he said. “We push it and try to recover the best we possibly can that night and see how it is the next morning. Then we go through that whole process again. You warm it up, then you warm it back down, or test it out, and then you've got to cool it back down. Then you've got to do that day in and day out.

“It gets agonising and teasing. The simple things that I would normally just go and do now take a couple hours here and a couple hours there to prep and then wind down.

“I can hit it just fine. I don't have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. Walking is the hard part. This (Augusta) is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now, given the condition that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult. You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it's going to be a tough challenge, a major marathon. It’s a challenge that I'm up for.”

He certainly will be. This will be, touch wood, his 24th Masters appearance as both an amateur and professional. Woods will bring the experience, the energy, the X-factor and the excitement. Can he bring the endurance, though?

Whatever unravels over the next few days, Woods knows he is fortunate to have been afforded another sporting chance. “I never left that hospital bed even to see my living room for three months,” he reflected of that period of initial recovery after a crash that almost cost him his right leg and a lot more. “That was a tough road. I got out of a wheelchair or crutches but still had more surgeries ahead of me. To say then that I was going to be here playing and talking to you guys (the press) again, it would have been very unlikely.

“But I don't show up to an event unless I think I can win it. So that's the attitude I've had. There will be a day when it won't happen and I'll know when that is.”

Having announced to the world that he would be making a 'game-time' decision on his fitness the other day, it now appears to be game on.