The Masters 2022 preview: Woods return set to light up Augusta

Matthew Hill
Tiger Woods has announced his intention to play in this week's Masters
Tiger Woods has announced his intention to play in this week's Masters

Nearly nine months on from Collin Morikawa’s Open Championship win, Major golf returns on Thursday as the 2022 Masters tees off. 

Ahead of what is shaping up to be one of the most wide-open editions of the tournament, we take a closer look at some of the key storylines to follow at Augusta National this week.

Tiger back on the prowl

After days of intense speculation, Tuesday brought confirmation of the news every golf fan had been hoping to hear — Tiger Woods will make his return to the professional game this week.

The 46-year-old American, a winner of the green jacket on a whopping five occasions, has not competed in a PGA Tour event since being involved in a horrific car crash in February 2021.

After that accident, Woods had initially feared his right leg may need to be amputated. And though that grim prospect was averted, hope of a comeback in any capacity had long looked slim. 

But an appearance alongside his son Charlie at the PNC Championship last December showed the 15-time Major winner to be in much improved shape.

Now, after successful practice rounds in recent days, Woods has confirmed his intention to compete at Augusta.

He told a press conference on Tuesday: "As of right now, I’m going to play. I’m going to play nine more holes tomorrow. 

"My recovery has been good. I’ve been very excited about how I’ve recovered each and every day."

While excitement is at fever pitch over Woods’ potential participation, it remains to be seen just how much his fitness will impact his performance.

Matsuyama defence hindered by injuries

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama will be out to retain his crown
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama will be out to retain his crown

Another star sweating over his health is defending champion Hideki Matsuyama, who arrives in Georgia plagued by neck and back issues.

Matsuyama, 30, became the first Asian winner in the tournament’s illustrious history 12 months ago when holding off Will Zalatoris by a single stroke. 

While victories at the Zozo Championship and Sony Open have followed since, recent weeks have proven to be significantly more frustrating.

Last month, injury forced the Japanese No1 to pull out of the Players Championship and skip the WGC-Match Play. Only last week, he withdrew from the Valero Texas Open midway through his second round.

Yet Matsuyama has no intentions of letting his title go without a fight.

Speaking on Tuesday, he said: "I’ve had a lot of treatment and just came from the practice range and really feel good.

"It’s probably the best I have felt in a long time so I am looking forward to Thursday and hopefully will be 100% by then.

"It’s been a great year. It’s great to be back here at Augusta. I feel very proud and honoured to be here as the defending champion. 

"The last couple of weeks, though, have been a struggle. Hopefully I can find my game and be a worthy defending champion."

Rahm wants to be back on top

Jon Rahm heads to this year's Masters in good spirits
Jon Rahm heads to this year's Masters in good spirits

Jon Rahm broke his Major duck at last year’s US Open and is hungry for more success this week — especially having lost top spot in the rankings.

Long-time world No1 Rahm, 27, was leapfrogged by red-hot Scottie Scheffler last week after the New Jersey native won a third event in five outings.

And while the Spaniard has offered his congratulations to Scheffler, he is not the type to settle for being second best.

Rahm said: "This is the beauty of the game we live in now. Anyone can be No1 at any point. I was able to be it for quite a bit and I’m hoping I can get it back." 

Though he is still searching for a first green jacket, Rahm has good course form at Augusta and is relishing a clear run at the title after having a disrupted preparation last year due to the birth of his first child, Kepa.

He said: "I’m feeling good. Very different feel to what I had last year, arriving late on the Tuesday night and just kind of playing nine and already teeing off on Thursday.

"I've been there. I've done it, and I know I can play good here. Hopefully I get to the back nine on Sunday a little bit closer, not needing a crazy back nine to get the win."

Time not running out on Rory

Rory McIlroy insists he still has plenty of time to win more Majors
Rory McIlroy insists he still has plenty of time to win more Majors

While The Masters’ roll of honour is an impressive one indeed, plenty of the game’s all-time greats still lack a green jacket in their collection — with Rory McIlroy arguably the most notable of all. 

Having spent over 100 weeks of his career as golf’s top-ranked player, the charming Northern Irishman, 32, would be assured of a place in the history books even if he retired tomorrow.

But having lifted a US Open, an Open Championship and two US PGA Championships by the age of 25, failure to add to that Major haul in the eight years since means the overriding feeling surrounding him is — perhaps harshly — one of underachievement.

After that second US PGA success in 2014, the great Jack Nicklaus predicted McIlroy would go on to win "15 to 20 Majors". Now, just adding another one or two would be a triumph.

Of course, an Augusta win would make him only the sixth man in history to win all four Majors — sealing the elusive career Grand Slam.

Five top-10 finishes in the last seven years suggest it would be foolish to count him out this week.

He said: "I’ve always said time is on my side and I’ll keep saying that until it isn’t, whenever that is. But, right now, I still feel like time is on my side.

"I’m only a few years older than those guys. I’ve got a few more grey hairs but I’m still young at heart.

"Back then [in 2014] I would feel unfulfilled if I didn't win a Major. I'd say there is a bit less pressure now."

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