(UPDATED: 3:30 p.m.)
When Tiger Woods was back at Augusta National playing a second practice round, he still hadn’t announced whether or not he would be playing in next week’s Masters. But his former coach, Hank Haney, believed the decision already was made, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “He’s playing. He’s been up there twice – obviously he’s going to play.”
Haney was right. Woods is in. He confirmed later in the day that he will be back in Augusta after missing last year’s tournament for the first time since turning pro.
Woods released a statement on his website Friday afternoon, reading: “I’m playing in the Masters. It’s obviously very important to me, and I want to be there. I’ve worked a lot on my game and I’m looking forward to competing. I’m excited to get to Augusta and I appreciate everyone’s support.”
Woods has won four Masters (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005) but he has struggled for most of the last two years. He hasn’t won a tournament since the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in August of 2013 and last won a major in 2008 (U.S. Open). That was his 14th major victory and, at the time, he looked certain to break Jack Nicklaus’s career record of 18. But now at 39, and his game suffering, it’s difficult to foresee him winning even one more title.
Truth is, nobody can be certain how competitive Woods can even be next week. The former No. 1 player in the world now ranks 104th.
“I think he probably just feels that he needs to get back out there,” Haney said before Woods’ announcement. “I can’t imagine what it would be like for him to miss the Masters again. Put it this way: If he doesn’t play, it really says something about the state of his game. Then you’d really have a story. But I think he’ll play. I can’t see him going to the Champions Dinner (next Tuesday) and saying, ‘I’m here but I’m not playing.’”
Haney worked with Woods for six years before an acrimonious split and has been outspoken about the player’s decreased work ethic and the flaws in his game. He doesn’t believe Woods will ever get back to the playing level of earlier in his career but still thinks he’s capable of competing in majors and winning tournaments.
“The one thing I always come back to is: He’s Tiger Woods. He can find something.”
Woods hasn’t played in a tournament since pulling out after 11 holes of the Farmers Insurance Open February. He has struggled with back pain for the past year, as well as other injuries.
When asked why Woods would delay confirming his entry in the Masters until Friday, Haney said: “That’s just the way he plays it. He plays it close to the vest. He probably feels there’s no reason for him to announce it at this point. In his mind, he’s thinking, ‘I’m a past champion. I’m always going to play.’ That’s how he thinks. And look at the publicity he’s getting by not saying anything. So in his mind, why not just go out there, see how you feel, see how your game is. It’s just the way he’s always done it.”