AUGUSTA -- It has been 10 years since Tiger Woods won the most recent of his four Masters titles.
And a lot has changed since then.
Woods is making his 20th appearance at Augusta National Golf Club after missing last year’s tournament because of injury. He won the tournament in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.
But Woods hasn’t won a major of any kind since the 2008 U.S. Open, and he is now ranked outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“Well, I’m excited, excited to be back, to be back playing at this level,” Woods said. “I feel like my game is finally ready to compete at this level, the highest level, and I’m excited to be here.
“There’s no other tournament in the world like this, and to come back to a place that I’ve had so many great memories at and so many great times in my life, it’s always special.”
Still, there was some doubt if Woods would play this week. After years of battling injuries, there have been recent struggles in his game (swing changes and problems with chipping and putting) that have knocked him off course.
He has played in only two tournaments this season, finishing tied for 17th (last) at the Hero World Challenge and missing the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open and hasn’t played competitively since early February at Phoenix.
Woods announced just last week that he would play in the Masters.
“If I felt like I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as I needed to or even chipping and putting, as well, but I needed to have all facets of my game come around,” Woods said of his decision to play this week. “They all have, and we’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of work on this (smiling), and it’s finally paid off.”
Woods also said his health has finally come around as he fights through back issues.
“A little bit here and there, but it was just from the twisting,” Woods said of any recent back pain. “It just gets sore also bending over and hitting so many putts, too. You stand over a putter for a couple of hours, and you’re going to be a little sore. But I just had to get through it.
“I had my therapist there, and he worked on me, and it was all good and ready to go. I had no structural damage, no structural issues. It was just the fact that my muscles got fatigued.”
Woods will play his first two rounds with Jamie Donaldson and Jimmy Walker. The four-time winner has missed the cut only once at the Masters and has recorded 11 top-five finishes, including six times since his most recent win.
“Competing is still the same. I’m trying to beat everybody out there. That hasn’t changed,” Woods said. “I prepare to win and expect to go and do that. I’ve come close. That’s the thing. Probably half those tournaments I had a chance on the back nine. I just didn’t get it done, for whatever reason it is.
“I’ve had my opportunities, and I just haven’t seized them.”