Tiger Woods sat comfortably on the dais inside the interview room in Augusta National’s media centre on Tuesday and delivered the words every golf fan wants to hear: he believes he can still win. And he was adamant that Rory McIlroy donning the green jacket is a matter of “when” not “if”.

Professional golf could really do with either one of those victories this week.

The professional game is divided with superstars spilt between two rival circuits, the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. TV ratings are down on the PGA Tour despite getting the best players together for $US20 million signature tournaments. Ratings on LIV are hard to quantify given the complexities of how to watch the Saudi-funded league. Former US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau recently said “fans are losing interest” while McIlroy commented that “not seeing the very best players in the world together more often I think is a shame for the overall game of golf and for fans that want to watch the pro game around the world”.

Professional golf needs a shot in the arm. And we need Woods or McIlroy to do the jabbing.

It’s unfair to rely on Woods to make golf interesting to the average sports fan after giving us 15 thrilling major wins and 82 PGA Tour titles over a whirlwind 22 years. But if he was called up to the plate this week, he says he still feels he could deliver.

“If everything comes together, I think I can win one more,” Woods said in a press conference on Tuesday, US time. “I haven’t gotten to that point where I don’t think I can [win].”

The idea of Woods winning a sixth green jacket and 16th overall major sits somewhere between mildly plausible and pie in the sky – as incredible it would be. He has played just one round of golf on the PGA Tour this year, at his own event at Riviera CC. Woods withdrew the following day due to illness. The ankle fusion surgery he had after his 2021 single car accident has healed, but the pain has deferred to other areas of the body.

“Basically every shot that’s not on the tee box,” Woods said with a laugh when asked what shots at the severe hills around Augusta National present the most pain.

The thing with Woods is it’s foolish to write him off.

Whether it’s a coping mechanism for fans to still believe he could win a green jacket, it remains a possibility. His ball speed is still over 170 miles an hour with the driver. On Monday, the 48-year-old Woods outdrove Will Zalatoris, considered among the favourites to win the Masters, on several tee shots during a practice round. Woods has 25 Masters’ worth of experience at a major that might present the most pressure on the back nine on Sunday of any major. Only 14 players of the 89 this year have both won the Masters and remain a realistic shot at winning. Even among those 14, Woods retains a mental edge as a known competitive killer. The possibility is still there, it’s just not as big as it used to be.

A far likelier outcome is McIlroy completing the career Grand Slam, given he needs only the Masters to add to his US Open (2011), PGA (2012, 2014) and Open Championship (2014) titles. Winning the Masters would make him the sixth player in history to win all four majors in their careers, and the first to do so since Woods completed it at St Andrews at the 2000 Open Championship.

But McIlroy’s form at Augusta remains an enigma. He is the best driver of the ball in modern golf and has an under-appreciated ability to hole putts. But recently, his form has been hard to pick at Augusta. He holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole for birdie to finish second behind Scottie Scheffler in 2022, but missed the cut last year. He had a run of six top-10s in seven years between 2014 and 2020.

At least his major form this there. Last year, McIlroy finished second at the US Open, T-7 at the PGA and T-6 at the Open Championship. Still, that green jacket eludes him.

“No question, he’ll do it at some point,” Woods said. “Rory’s too talented, too good. He’s going to be playing this event for a very long time. He’ll get it done. It’s just a matter of when.”

If when is the question, “this week” would be a great answer.