The Masters: Tiger Woods handled the hardest walk all year and can be a contender again, says Jon Rahm

By Sports Desk April 10, 2022

Tiger Woods had Jon Rahm for company in the final round of the Masters, and his Spanish playing partner senses the American golfing great is bang on track to be a major contender again.

The playing partners had contrasting fortunes on Sunday, with Rahm signing off with a classy 69 and Woods labouring to a weary 78.

But it was to be expected that Woods would flag this weekend, having amazed the golfing world by making the cut in his first PGA Tour event since November 2020. An opening 71 had been a staggering achievement.

After back surgery, and the shocking car crash in February 2021 which Woods has admitted he was lucky to survive, it was a wonder that he played Augusta at all this year.

He was bedridden for a good while after the crash in California in which he sustained major leg and foot injuries, and the undulating course that stages the Masters, a tournament that Woods has won five times, was hardly tailor-made to allow the 46-year-old a soft landing back in the professional game.

World number two Rahm had a view at close quarters of the returning Woods, and said: "It's really cool. It was great because nobody cared about me, so I was just watching him play. I was able to enjoy today as a fan and as a player.

"You can just tell that his leg is just not quite up there yet. I've seen him in the truck. He is limping in the truck. He is limping on the course. Obviously, he is trying very hard to play, but it's not easy to walk up and down those hills. At the end you can just tell that his leg and his body are just not used to walking this much, right?

"I believe if at home he can walk and get strength up and stamina in that sense, he will be able to be competitive again.

"This is the hardest walk all year. He will be able to go somewhere where it's a little easier to walk. It won't be as long, and I believe he'll be able to contend."

Rahm said "the Tiger effect" can be seen on the PGA Tour, where he faces competition from a generation that grew up watching and admiring Woods; he namechecked the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, new Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Smith.

Rahm also said Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau were among the same peer group that has taken the game by the scruff of the neck, and he believes the intense competition may mean there is no one standout player who wins a great glut of majors.

Woods has 15 to his name, but such a staggering haul seems out of range for the players who have followed in his wake.

"All of us are close in age, and we all – Dustin being a little bit older – we're all within five years, and we all grew up watching Tiger. We all grew up wanting to be him, and we all grew up with the dream of being major champions," Rahm said.

"With the advancement in golf, in all of us thinking of ourselves as athletes, you can see the difference. Everybody can reach a new level.

"It's really hard to stay up there for a long time. Some players have been able to do it, but it's just the next guy comes up, gets hot, and there you go. It's a beautiful part of the golden age of golf we're living in right now.

"Hopefully it's me, but you might not get the one guy that's going to dominate for a long time, but you're going to get five, six, maybe 10 players that can do their part. Anybody gets hot for three, four months, and you can see what happens."

Woods said he felt "thankful" that he was able to last the distance.

"Just to be able to play, and not only just to play, but I put up a good first round," Woods said. "I got myself there. I don't quite have the endurance that I would like to have had, but as of a few weeks ago, didn't even know if I was going to play in this event.

"To go from that to here, we're excited about the prospects of the future, about training, about getting into that gym and doing some other stuff to get my leg stronger, which we haven't been able to do because it needed more time to heal. I think it needs a couple more days to heal after this, but we'll get back after it, and we'll get into it."

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