Woods sneaks off to Augusta to fine tune his comeback swing

World No 1 serves Masters warning to rivals with intense 72-hole practice session

Tiger Woods has just proved how determined he is to make his competitive return a winning one by completing two intensive days of practice at Augusta. The world No 1 is believed to have headed back to Orlando late last night after playing 72 holes on the course where he will contest the Masters in a fortnight's time.

Woods flew to Georgia early on Monday morning, a few hours after the screening of the first interviews he had granted since the car crash outside his home in November which led to a torrent of revelations about extra-marital affairs. Golf Digest reported that Woods embarked on an exhaustive programme in which he played two rounds followed by a lengthy short-game session. He was due to undertake the same schedule yesterday.

Woods has not played competitively since winning in Australia on 15 November. As the 34-year-old did not begin practising again until three weeks ago, he plainly needs as much fairway time as possible. But there was undoubtedly more to his trip than simple reconnaissance of the layout where he has won four green jackets. As Woods commented during the five-minute sit-downs he gave to ESPN and the Golf Channel: "I know how to play that golf course."

Woods normally practises at Isleworth, the private course in the gated community where he lives. For the last two days the Tavistock Cup has been held there and in any other year Woods would have been teeing it up in this made-for-TV exhibition match. Augusta offered a bolthole to continue his behind-closed-doors preparations. Woods will be attempting to become the first golfer to win the Masters on his first start of the season since Ben Hogan 57 years ago. Remarkably he is 3-1 favourite to do just that, despite the fact he has not prevailed there in five years.

While Woods insists his game is not yet ready to play in tomorrow's Arnold Palmer Invitational – and so enjoy a warm-up event – the word from Isleworth suggests he is, in fact, playing as well as ever. Indeed, after playing with him on Thursday, Friday and Sunday last week, John Cook declares his friend's form to be "vintage".

"From what I've seen the last three days with his ball-striking I think he will win at Augusta," said the former Open runner-up. "I don't see anybody hitting the ball like he does. It was vintage. If he takes that game up there, I'd be hard-pressed to see anybody beating him."

Cook, however, realises there will be other factors than mere match-fitness threatening Woods' challenge for a 15th major. "We all know that that's not the whole battle, there are a lot of other issues there for him," he said. "You have to go up to the first green and mark your ball and you have to finish out and sign your name at the end of the day – that's a whole different deal. It will be his first rounds of golf for five months. But he just got through something that takes all the fortitude you have. If he can survive that, playing golf is nothing."

Arjun Atwal, another PGA Tour professional, made up last week's threeball and was just as effusive as Cook about the man who apparently took all the money. "Woods feels he's not totally ready, but I think he's ready," said Atwal. "He's very mellow now, very chilled out. He's also hitting it longer than before, there's no doubt. He's killing it, absolutely killing it. Nothing seems rusty, nothing at all. He thinks he isn't putting very well – but for us mere mortals it seems okay. If Tiger gets that putter going at all, he'll probably win the Masters."

Seve Ballesteros is thrilled to see Woods returning to golf – the sport would have been in "serious difficulties" without him – and despite not having had the privilege of seeing him up close, still believes he has a "great chance" of winning the Masters.

"His return is good for the golf world and I am very happy about it," Ballesteros said after being presented as the patron of Spain's bid to host the 2018 Ryder Cup. "It is going to help golf in all the world. I think that Tiger Woods takes over so much that if he wasn't around, if he had retired, the golf world would be in serious difficulties.

"He is used to playing long off the tee and he knows Augusta very well, so he has a great chance to win."

Yet not everyone is so excited about the talk of Woods's return. Said England's Ian Poulter: "We are all speculating. I just hate this nonsense. We don't know how he is going to play. I just hate all the chit-chat. I'm bored of it."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam