It was as quick as it was impressive. Tiger Woods’ warm-up routine at Augusta National on Sunday lasted all of 19 minutes.
But that was all Billy Horschel needed to be as “giddy” as all of us.
Horschel stood with the 15-time Major winner and his entourage as Woods pounded ball after ball. Horschel’s assessment of the five-time Masters champion’s swing was even shorter than the warm-up itself.
“He looked like Tiger to me,” an excited Horschel said afterwards.
Speculation has been rife as to whether Woods would possess the same speed, strength or feel after a single-car accident in February 2020 nearly resulted in his right leg being amputated.
At 3.21pm on Sunday at Augusta National, Woods put all that to bed.
With a little more than 30 shots, Woods gave golf fans a reason to be excited. Not only does Woods look likely to tee off in Thursday’s first round, there’s hope he could even be competitive.
Although reporters in the media centre knew Woods’ private plane had touched down at Augusta Regional airport just before 2pm, it was still a shock to see him gliding onto Augusta National’s practice fairway wearing a peach shirt, black pants and black shoes.
Woods gave reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama a big hug as he entered the range with his caddie, Joe LaCava, and close friend, Rob McNamara. Woods’ right leg looked a little ginger, but so it should.
Woods started with 20-yard pitches. Then he was hitting sawn-off wedge shots to a green about 80 metres away. Low shots. High shots. Plenty of them danced around the hole and fizzed back a few feet.
He stopped every now and then to joke with McNamara, LaCava and Horschel. Even Kevin Na came up to say hi.
Woods worked up to short irons, then a long iron, then a handful of 3-woods off the deck. All flushed and most with a slight draw. After about 27 shots in total, he pulled the driver out and hit a handful of those. Horschel watched the entire session and estimated Woods was carrying his drives “about 290 yards”.
“I haven’t seen him hit two balls in two years,” Horschel said of the 82-time PGA Tour winner, whose last official tournament was the 2020 Masters in November 2020.
“He looked good. His swing looked good. He looked like Tiger to me. It didn’t look like there was any loss of speed. He could still hit it high, hit shots.”
Horschel is No.13 in the world and in good form himself. He made the final 16 of the WGC-Match Play two weeks ago. But he’s as big a Woods fan as any. He was one of the PGA Tour stars who attended Woods’ induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame recently.
“I think everything he’s gone through, even before this, he was in good spirits, even moreso now, appreciative of everything,” Horschel said. “He understands that. We all understand that.
“For him to even be here this week, and hopefully be playing – which I think he is – I think we’re all giddy about it. It’s pretty exciting.
“Did he look like the 20-something Tiger? No. But he looked like the Tiger we saw before the accident, in my opinion, the way the swing looked and the speed.”
At about 3.40pm, Woods hopped in a cart and was escorted out onto the course, where he teed off on the 10th for a late Sunday afternoon practice round.
He’s not the same Tiger Woods as before his car accident. But he’s more compelling than ever.