Tiger Woods is fooling himself and others at 2024 US Masters

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He still thinks he can win.

Believe him — or bet on him — at your own peril.

Tiger Woods, at age 48 and with more physical ailments than major championships on his stunning resume, is playing in his 26th Masters this week at Augusta National — and Tuesday said he still believes he has it in him to win a record-tying sixth green jacket.

“If everything comes together,’’ said Woods, who has 15 major titles to his credit, “I think I can get one more.’’

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Then, he added this with a smile: “Do I need to describe that any more than that, or are we good?’’

This remains Woods’ preferred reality: He’s stuck in the phase where he’s talking himself into the belief he can still win major championships, The New York Post reports.

This is the actual reality: Though he has no interest in entertaining the thought — at least publicly — Woods is well into the phase of ceremonial golfer, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

Woods is Nolan Ryan believing he can still strike out 20 guys at his retirement age of 46.

He’s Wayne Gretzky believing he can still score 60 goals at his retirement age of 38.

He’s Larry Bird believing he can still drop 55 points in a game at his retirement age of 35.

He’s Tom Brady believing he can still throw 50 touchdown passes at his retirement age of 44.

The fact is Woods is in the early stages of what Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus eventually became at every Masters — an all-time great who golf fans would feel privileged to watch still play despite the fact that everyone knows he can no longer compete to win.

Woods, whose world ranking has plummeted to 959th, has played in only one tournament this year, and he failed to make it through two rounds — withdrawing from the second round of the Genesis Invitational in February with the flu.

The last PGA Tour event in which Woods played all four rounds was the 2023 Genesis Invitational. The only other full-field event he played in 2023 was the Masters, at which he had to withdraw after two rounds with physical ailments.

In December at his tournament, the Hero World Challenge, Woods stated his goal is to play one event a month. So, it was presumed after the Genesis that he’d play either the Players Championship or the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March in preparation for this week’s Masters.

Woods, however, played in neither.

“I wasn’t ready to play,’’ Woods said. “My body wasn’t ready. My game wasn’t ready. I thought that when I was at Hero, once a month would be a really nice rhythm. Hasn’t worked out that way. But now we have major championships every month from here through July, so now the once a month hopefully kicks in.’’

It’s pure folly and fantasy to think Woods can still contend at his age and physical condition while going up against the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and the other stars of the game in their respective primes.

Woods is in pursuit of two significant Masters records this week. If he makes the cut, it’ll be the 24th consecutive time he’s done that, which would break the record held by his good friend Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer.

A win would tie Nicklaus for the most in Masters history at six. Woods won his fifth Masters in 2019, which feels like an eternity ago considering what he’s dealt with physically off the golf course in that five-year span, the worst of which was the near-fatal car crash in February 2021.

Nicklaus, for years, swore he’d never become a ceremonial golfer, which is exactly what he became at Augusta after he was past his ability to compete to win.

Referencing Nicklaus’ one-time reticence, I asked Woods on Tuesday whether he’s had thoughts about his mortality as a competitor, eventually morphing into a ceremonial golfer and even taking part as one of the honorary starters for the annual ceremonial first tee shot.

No, no,’’ he said. “I have not thought about being an [honorary] starter here, no.’’

Then I asked if, in a more immediate sense, what’ll happen when he doesn’t think everything can “come together’’ and result in victory, he said, “Well, I still think they can. I don’t know when that day is or when that day comes, but … I haven’t got to that point where I don’t think I can’t.’’

Miracles can happen — some felt 2019 fell into that category — but Woods is now surely there, needing a miracle to contend.

Even if he refuses to believe it in his mind.

Even if some of his close friends — like Couples, with whom he played the back nine on Tuesday morning — refuse to acknowledge it.

“Can he win here? You know what? Yeah,’’ Couples said.

Couples said that sounding almost hopeful.

Who isn’t hopeful?

What more remarkable story is there this week than Woods winning a sixth green jacket against all odds and reason?

— This story originally appeared on The New York Post and has been republished with permission