AUGUSTA, Ga. — This thing’s getting real.
Tiger Woods took another significant step toward the first tee Thursday morning to play his 24th Masters opening round. For the second consecutive day, he practiced and played some holes, playing the front nine Monday afternoon after playing the back a day earlier.
Never mind the “game-time decision’’ assessment given by Woods in his Sunday morning tweet. Barring a serious setback, Woods will be playing this week. And the closer the moment gets, the more it sets in how remarkable that moment will be when he tees it up Thursday.
Woods’ presence at Augusta has had the place positively buzzing, and not only from the massive galleries of fans — more than 35,000 were estimated to be on the grounds Monday — jockeying for position to get a glimpse of him, but from Woods’ fellow competitors, too.
The fact that he’s set to compete in arguably golf’s most important major championship fewer than 14 months removed from the frightening car crash he was in outside of Los Angeles, is a staggering thought.
“I’d be surprised if it was anyone else that’s ever lived,’’ Max Homa said Monday. “So, no, I’m not surprised. I am amazed. It is a true testament to his work ethic because we all know what he does on the golf course, how hard he works, and the stories and the legend.
“It reminds me of the documentary ‘The Muse’ with Kobe Bryant after he pops his Achilles — him picking up marbles with his toes and … and doing way more than anyone else would do. That’s what I imagine Tiger is doing, just like the most reps you possibly can to get ready. It’s remarkable really.’’
Stephen Nicholas, the director of sports medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and the former Jets orthopedist, also used that word “remarkable’’ when speaking to The Post about Woods playing this week.
“It’s remarkable recovery — just from the amount of intestinal fortitude it takes to overcome what he’s had to overcome,’’ Nicholas said Monday before walking Augusta National with his son. “Just to play and walk again is remarkable, and to play golf at this competitive level is a story that’s just beyond belief.’’
Nicholas said he’s surprised at Woods’ rapid recovery “because the bone that he injured [the talus bone, which connects the foot to the ankle] is such an important part of his swing.’’
“The talus bone is a round bone that sits underneath the ankle joint and when you injure that you crack it and you can lose a piece of it, which creates an irregularity in the articulation between the bone above and the big round ball,’’ Nicholas went on. “That causes inflammation in the tendon and surrounding joint capsule and causes pain. The stiffness that’s created by that injury in the ankle is unbelievable. You have to get rid of the stiffness and that’s a very painful, arduous task.
“He’s a tough guy obviously, but I didn’t think he’d be able to get back all the way to compete. I thought he’d be able to get back to play recreational golf.’’
Woods on Monday played with two of his closest friends in golf, Fred Couples and Justin Thomas, and Couples said Woods “looked phenomenal.’’
“I hope he’s able to tee it up this week and play well,’’ Patrick Cantlay said. “Obviously, that’s the greatest thing for our sport. Everyone’s excited about it. Even last week, hearing the potential for him to play was exciting to the guys. There’s definitely a different feel in tournaments when he tees it up.’’
Bryson DeChambeau best described that different feeling when he said, “We could hear the loud roar when he came out of the clubhouse up to that first tee, and that was pretty special to hear.
“I couldn’t be more happy for him [to be] in the place he’s at right now, coming back, proud of him. Shoot, coming back off that injury, we’ve had some conversations, and man, I don’t know how he’s done it. Tiger is Tiger, and you can never count him out. He is one that may shock a lot of people if he does tee it up this week.’’
Adam Scott said seeing Woods play this week “would just be epic,’’ adding, “I’ve learned long ago never doubt the guy. If he can get around, which seems to be the question, you can’t doubt his golf.’’
Asked if he thinks Woods can “compete’’ this week, Homa said, “Yeah, it’s Tiger Woods.’’
Brooks Koepka delivered these strong words about Woods: “We need him. The game needs him. Everybody needs him. The fans need him, all that stuff.’’
Koepka, too, said he relates to Woods after playing the Masters last year fresh off a knee injury.
“Look, I was in somewhat of his shoes trying last year two weeks after surgery,’’ Koepka said. “This place isn’t exactly an easy walk. I understand what he’s up against. It’ll be difficult. It’s a major championship, it’s Augusta, it doesn’t matter how much pain you’re in, you figure out a way. He’ll figure out a way. If anybody can do it, it’s him.’’
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