AUGUSTA (Georgia) • Tiger Woods arrived at Augusta National Golf Club this week as a four-time Masters champion and the central character in a star-studded field.
To the people fitting him for a fifth Green Jacket - one that would come 13 years after his most recent win here - he has a message: "I have four rounds to play. So let's just kind of slow down."
While he has sought to temper expectations, the former world No. 1 knows how far he has come compared to just six months ago.
In a nine-hole practice round on Tuesday when he was joined by Phil Mickelson, he showed he could yet write one of the greatest comeback stories in golf.
The massive galleries that followed him all morning thundered their approval at a demonstration of his old power.
His pre-Masters appearance was one of the most highly anticipated of his two-decade career, perhaps rivalling only 2001, when he was competing to hold all four Major titles simultaneously, and 2010, when he was returning to competition from a self-imposed hiatus following the revelation of a series of personal travails.
Now, the American is 42 and a changed character.
In a wide-ranging, nearly half-hour session with a room full of reporters, Woods addressed the field this week, his own competitiveness, and how he feels physically.
The theme, though, was certainly how far he has come from the days when his main challenge was not Augusta's Amen Corner - one of the most hallowed places in all of golf - but getting out of bed.
In a post on his website last week, he described himself as a "walking miracle" following his return to form after multiple back surgeries.
"It's been a tough road," he said. "I've described a little bit of it, the pain of just sitting there, the amount of times that I've fallen because my leg didn't work... Those were some really dark times.
"The reason why I said I'm a walking miracle is I don't know of anyone who's had a lower back fusion (operation) who can swing the club as fast as I can swing it."
He missed three of the past four Masters while dealing with injuries.
His appearance at this year's event is the focus of the golf world not only because of his legendary stature in the game but also because of his career arc.
The dark times the 14-time Major champion described suddenly seem distant, because he finished second last month at the Valspar Championship and then contended again in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational before finishing fifth.
Those two results have made Woods one of the betting favourites entering the season's first Major despite his last Major title coming at the 2008 US Open.
He will open his 21st Masters appearance today alongside Australian Marc Leishman and Britain's Tommy Fleetwood in the first round.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST
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