Tiger Woods is a ‘game-time decision’ for the Masters. Here’s what that means

Tiger Woods is hoping to play this week's Masters.

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For months, the golf world has breathlessly speculated on Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf. Where would he make his first start? Could it come at the Masters?!

Last week, that speculation reached a fever pitch when the collective golf internet tracked Woods’ jet to Augusta, Ga., where he played a practice round and worked on his game on the range. Murmurs from the club were that Woods looked good; he had speed and made it through the round. Surely an announcement was imminent?

Throughout his career Woods has waited until the last possible moment to announce tournament commitments. That has meant Friday afternoon press releases ahead of an event, pushing the limits of the PGA Tour’s cutoff time. But the Masters has different requirements of its competitors, so the Friday before the event came and went without a peep from Team Tiger.

Saturday passed, too; the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Am took center stage and Woods maintained his silence.

At last, on Sunday morning, there was a tweet. Woods announced that he’d be heading to Augusta “today” to continue preparations for a potential Masters start. Perhaps he was saving Twitter from the trouble of tracking his jet. Still, the tweet was hardly conclusive; he didn’t even promise to play.

“It will be a game-time decision on whether I compete,” he wrote. He added his congratulations to ANWA winner Anna Davis and passed along best wishes to the Drive, Chip and Putt competitors on Sunday.

So…now what? What does Woods’ announcement mean? Three things for certain:

1. The Tiger optimists were right.

Woods himself has been tempering expectations for months. His first public reappearance since the crash came at the Hero World Challenge, where he insisted he was still a long way from competitive play. He reiterated that stance at the PNC Challenge and then again at the Genesis Invitational in February.

“I’m talking about playing golf,” he said at the time, emphasizing the involved nature of tournament play. “That’s a practice round, that’s a pro-am day, or if it’s a major, it’s a practice round day, it’s the rounds. It’s the competitive nature, how much that takes out of you mentally, physically, emotionally. I haven’t prepared for any of that.”

He sounded like a man who would need more than a month to prepare for his next major championship start.

But Woods has always inspired irrational faith in his abilities. His most recent comeback, which culminated in an unlikely Masters title in 2019, reemphasized that point: Never count out Tiger Woods. That has proven an undeniable truth, even truer than what Woods actually says. Turns out, the Tiger Believers were right. Even if Woods doesn’t compete this week or plays poorly, the fact that he’s is on the brink of playing this year’s Masters means he was always further along in his recovery than he let on.

2. Brace yourself for leg analysis.

If you’re reading this article, I’m fairly certain you’re curious whether Woods will play the Masters or not. But just how curious? Are you prepared for four days of analyzing Woods’ practice-round stride and the health of his leg? How do you analyze a golfer’s stride, anyway? How do you evaluate his readiness to walk 72 competitive holes?

I’m sure we’ll all weary of it, to some extent. On the other hand, until the first ball is in the air on Thursday, whether Woods will play is undeniably the question of the tournament. (Scottie Scheffler’s form entering the week appeals to a slightly narrower demographic.) Golf Channel will analyze away. We will on this website, too. What other choice is there?

3. Barring a setback, Woods will play.

Do I believe Woods that he intends to make a game-time decision? Sure. But Woods fully intends to play. Sources familiar with his training have emphasized that he looks good, that his ball speed has returned, that he’s been a regular on the Medalist range. We saw him showing both form and competitive juices at the PNC. We’ve heard about Joe LaCava heading to Florida to accompany Woods on some golf outings. All signs point towards the fact that Woods wants to play, expects to play and, barring a setback, will play.

So why the vague announcement? Why the “game-time decision”? Because Woods has managed expectations at every step of the process. He has tried to ensure that people are realistic about his return, given he’s 46 years old and recovering from a devastating set of injuries. That’s not to say he’s been successful in doing so. Tiger Woods and “realistic” have never gone hand in hand. Woods is already climbing odds boards at sportsbooks, going off at 50-1 or shorter in places. The hype will continue to build.

Tiger Woods is in Augusta for Masters Week. The golf world will be watching what happens next.

dylan dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.