Tiger Woods' 91st competitive round at the Masters started like all the rest.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, the five-time champion stuck his tee into the ground at Tea Olive, the name of the first hole at Augusta National, took a couple of practice swings and continued a familiar walk that began over a quarter-century ago.
Thursday will determine whether his surgically rebuilt right leg — or the rest of the 46-year-old Hall of Famer for that matter — is ready for a test unlike any other he's faced in his career.
The five-mile or so walk between the Georgia pines at Augusta National is 11,000-plus steps of up and down and up again. It requires hitting shots from uneven lies. Of digging into the pine straw when required. Of trying to peak over bunkers that can run so deep — as it does on the par-3 fourth hole — you need to jump if you're going to see the flag.
No one other than Jack Nicklaus has navigated the sprawling course as well as Woods. No active player is as well-versed in the contours of every inch of perfectly manicured Bermuda grass.
That's why Woods wasn't complaining when he said on Tuesday “walking is the hard part.” He's merely stating a fact. And he's hardly the only one who knows how physically draining competing in the Masters can be.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange used to leave the tournament with shin splints. And Strange didn't have to do it while working with a leg crammed with rods and plates metal detectors shudder when they see you coming around the corner.
“You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it’s going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I’m up for,” Woods said.
At least in theory. He hasn't played 18 holes at Augusta National on consecutive days since shredding his leg in a car accident in February 2021 that led doctors to consider amputation. Now he's asking the same leg that anchored 15 major championships and a PGA Tour record-tying 82 victories to hold up for four rounds in the span of 81 or so hours.
That doesn't even include the warm-up or recovery, routines that require far more time than they did when he fist-pumped his way to his first green jacket 25 years ago.
It's asking a lot. Yes, it's just walking. Only it's no ordinary walk. And it's no ordinary week. For Woods or anyone else.
Woods admits his mobility is so limited he ditched Nike cleats for FootJoys because it provided more comfort. He's hoping the jolt of adrenaline fueled by the first capacity crowd to come to Augusta since his titanic victory in 2019 will help him get by.
“When I decide to hang it up when I feel like I can’t win anymore, then that will be it,” he said. “But I feel like I can still do it, and I feel like I still have the hands to do it, the body’s moving good enough. I’ve been in worse situations and played and won tournaments.”
The spirit remains willing. It has since the first time he ducked inside the ropes at Augusta as an amateur in 1995.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.