AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods isn’t at the Masters this year, but his friend and fellow Florida resident Rory McIlroy made certain the presence of the ailing Woods is still being felt at Augusta.
In sharing an anecdote from a recent visit with Woods, who is home recovering from multiple surgeries for leg and ankle injuries sustained in a Feb. 23 single-car crash in California, McIlroy reminded the world of the competitor Tiger is.
“In his family room he’s got his trophy cabinet and it’s his 15 major trophies. I said, ‘That’s really cool. Where are all the others?’ ” McIlroy said. “He said, ‘I don’t know.’ I go, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, my mom has some, and a few are in the office and a few are wherever.’ ”
The conversation stuck with McIlroy, even crowding out those thoughts of gratitude that Woods appeared to be comfortable on the road to recovery.
“That’s all I could think about on the way home,” McIlroy said. “I was thinking, that’s all he cared about, so how easy that must have felt for him to win all the others. That was just always in my mind, he talked about these are the four weeks that matter. So the weeks that didn’t matter, you know, he racked them up at a pretty fast clip.
“I’m just thinking to myself, how easy must that have felt for him if all he cared about were four weeks a year. The other stuff must have been like practice.”
The practice rounds are where Justin Thomas is most missing his close friend Woods, and a Friday text exchange between the two confirmed Woods, too, was wishing he could be out there alongside Thomas and fellow regular playing partner Fred Couples.
“He said it’s kind of starting to set in,” Thomas said. “He’s bummed he’s not here playing practice rounds with us, and we hate it, too.”
Thomas, who decried the many theories about the cause of the crash that have made the Internet rounds, especially false ones that reach Woods’s kids and family, provided somewhat of an update on Woods’s condition.
“I would say the thing for him is he’s unfortunately been through rehab processes before,” Thomas said. “But he’s been good. It’s been good just to go hang out with him. We are fortunate with the [NCAA] basketball [tournament on] to just hang out and watch sports like we would any normal time.”
Said McIlroy: “It was good to see him in decent spirits and actually not you know — when you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, it’s like, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that.”
As much as Thomas enjoys those yearly practice excursions during Masters week with Woods and Couples, he doesn’t love that their Tuesday night dinner plans don’t — and can’t — include him. While the two former Masters champions (Woods five times, Couples one) chat about what time they plan to arrive at the annual Champions Dinner, hosted by the reigning winner of the tournament, Thomas, whose one major championship came at the PGA, is left on the outside looking in.
“I’m just like, whatever, I’m done. I get it. You guys are going to the Champions Dinner and I’m eating at my house,” Thomas said. “Honestly, they have been nice to me and not needled me about that. I was fortunate enough to do a Champions Dinner at the PGA. It was a really, really cool experience and something that you’re a part of forever. It feels like a fraternity. It’s definitely a fraternity I would love to join.”
So, does Thomas have a menu in mind, perhaps something along the lines of Dustin Johnson’s appetizer of pigs in a blanket?
“You could serve water and I would be pleased as long as I’m there because that means that I’ve won the Masters,” Thomas said.
McIlroy, who remains a Masters title short of a career Grand Slam, also wants in.
“They are the cool perks about winning a green jacket, right?” he said. “It’s being able to come back here every year, enjoying this week. So yeah, I’d obviously love to be able to be a part of that one day. And it could be the year where everything clicks and I’m the one hosting that dinner next year. You never know.”
After missing the November 2020 Masters because of a case of COVID-19, 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia is happy to be back and get started on a new major streak. The virus snapped his run of 84 consecutive majors played, dating to the 1999 British Open.
“Obviously, it was disappointing to miss the Masters in November, but it made me realize [how much I missed] it and wanting to be back even more,” he said. “So, that was the positive out of it.”
Back to back?
Johnson isn’t much one to create headlines, and not even being the defending champion at Augusta is about to change that. He’s only had five months to wear the green jacket, but he isn’t about to declare himself some heavy favorite to extend his reign.
Asked if he was ready to repeat, if his game is in great shape, Johnson replied, “It’s in good shape. Maybe not quite as good of shape as it was in November, but I feel like it’s coming together. I’m starting to hit a lot of the same shots and getting a lot more comfortable over the golf ball. Yeah, I feel like it’s in pretty good form.”