At the Masters, Tiger Woods will take ice with this

AUGUSTA, Georgia — Tiger Woods stood in the glorious sunshine of a Georgian spring one afternoon last week, a lingering dose of heat before the freezing, hellish hours ahead.

“A lot of treatments, a lot of ice, a lot of ice baths, I’m freezing to death,” Woods said of his plans ahead of his next tee shot at Augusta National Golf Club. “It’s just part of the deal.”

Rare is the athlete whose medical history has been more scrutinized and documented – by doctors, as well as numerous armchair experts in tournament galleries, salons and the news media – over the decades. But with Woods chasing his sixth Masters Tournament title not even 14 months after a car accident made possible a leg amputation, the 46-year-old golfer’s recovery regimen may be more important than any reading from any green.

“If he can walk around here in 72 holes he will struggle,” said Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters winner who trained with Woods before the tournament opened on Thursday. “He is too good. He is too good.

Couples may have been overly optimistic when he spoke on Monday. Woods shot a spectacular 71 on Thursday and a 74 on Friday to put his score one over par going into the weekend. Taken together, the rounds, top to bottom, were remarkable displays of the ferocity and courage that helped Woods dominate his sport for years. But these pre-cut outings had to be the least taxing.

Woods has explained throughout the week how little he cared about his golf skills, even as he openly worried about the wear and tear on a body that had seen its easiest days a long time ago. .

So he and his team must spend the hours between rounds trying to achieve dueling ambitions: to reduce the swelling that comes with wandering around the topographical nightmare that is Augusta, and to keep Woods’ surgically reconstructed limb.” mobile and warmed up, activated and explosive for the next day,” as he put it.

“In most sports, if you’re not feeling great, you have a teammate to pass it on to, and they can kind of pick up the slack, or in football, one day a week,” Woods said. “Here we have four days in a row, and no one but me will take charge of it. I have to find a way to do it.

According to Woods, he hasn’t taken a day off from his rehabilitation efforts since emerging from the three months in bed following his car accident near Los Angeles in February 2021. The crash left him left with open tibia and fibula fractures in his right leg, and this led to surgeons adding rods, plates and screws to his leg.

The ensuing recovery required compromises and gambles and, in something not new for Woods, an unwavering faith in his own talents, however rejected.

Some changes seem a little easier to accept than others, like new shoes to help with stability on the course. But experts have also developed protocols for rounds before and after — “after I go ahead and break there, they go ahead and fix it overnight,” Woods said on Friday — which lengthened considerably. the calendar that accompanies the game.

These approaches, which can last for hours, have left Woods with less time to, say, hit a thousand balls a day and refine, once again, the nuances of his game.

“It gets nerve-wracking and teasing because of simple things that I would normally go and do that would now take a few hours here and a few hours there to get ready and then relax,” he said. “So the activity time, to do what I want to do, it adds more time on both sides.”

The goal, he said, was to develop the stamina that propelled him and all the other Augusta winners to give enough relief to make competitive golf more of a possibility than a chimera.

But the strategies can only lessen, not extinguish, the pain, which Woods says is there “every day.”

He insists, however, that the pain is not a problem. According to his account, he had no unexpected physical setbacks during his first days back in Augusta.

The question for Woods — and anyone left standing on the field in Augusta — is how long an already reshaped leg can hold up under such prolonged stress. The course, lengthened this year, now stands at 7,510 yards, the longest in the history of the tournament, which was first contested in 1934. Woods’ predictions go no further.

“I expected to be in pain and not feel my best, that’s for sure,” Woods said Friday. “It’s the combination. I can walk on this golf course — I can put on tennis shoes and take a walk, that’s no problem. But going ballistically to shots and hitting shot forms on uneven lies poses a whole new challenge.

He moved away quickly, presumably for another icy night.