Is Tiger Woods preparing to play in the Masters?

About 9 a.m. Tuesday, the Twitter feed @RadarSports noted that a multi-engine, 20-seat, Gulfstream G550 had just departed a small airfield near Jupiter, Florida.

The plane is owned by GTW Corp, a private company whose chairman just happens to be Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. The golfer lives about 16 miles from the airport, Witham Field.

A little over an hour later, it landed.

In Augusta, Georgia.

The 86th edition of the Masters begins next week and the hottest story in golf right now is whether Woods, just 13 months from a near-fatal car accident, might return to play in the tournament he’s won five times.

It would be, of course, an incredible and inspiring comeback. In the moments after Tiger Woods flipped his Genesis SUV over a median, across two lanes and into a Southern California ditch on the morning of Feb. 23, 2021, the concern was whether he’d live, then keep his leg, then walk at all.

Golf? Competitive golf? Not too important. If anything, maybe Tiger would get to play some leisurely rounds with his son Charlie and daughter Sam.

Now, however, that improbable-seeming return to actual tournament play is becoming more probable.

Perhaps, even next week at the Masters.

Nothing has been settled. There has been no confirmation. However, golf fans and internet sleuths — like those who might spend a Tuesday morning monitoring private jet flight plans — have been abuzz at the possibilities.

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The speculation has been fueled by rumors, gossip, random social media reports and grainy cellphone video of Tiger playing golf (with no time stamp, of course). There is also the fact that while no one has stated that Tiger is officially in the Masters field, no one has stated that he is officially not in the field.

So the fun has been in the figuring.

The Masters’ website maintains a list of 2022 invitees — Woods is on that.

It also has a list of “Past Champions Not Playing.” The 46-year-old Woods isn’t on that one, unlike everyone from old-timers such as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to contemporaries such as Phil Mickelson (taking time away from the game after incendiary comments).

There’s more, of course. The most notable is supposed eyewitness reports that Woods twice played and walked The Medalist Golf Club in South Florida last week. A brief cellphone video may or may not confirm that.

It trends with his steady recovery from that horrific accident — first walking, then hitting balls and finally playing some casual rounds. In December, the 15-time major champion played with his 12-year-old son in the PNC Championship.

Tiger even looked pretty good, fueling speculation that predictions of a 2023 triumphant Masters return might get moved up a year. No one has ever questioned his competitiveness, after all.

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The PNC is one thing though. Same with a non-competition round at the Medalist. Neither comes under the stress of a major. Besides, walking the flat terrain of Palm Beach County bears little resemblance to the steep hills and sprawling property of Augusta National.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 19: Charlie Woods and Tiger Woods wait to play a shot on the first hole with caddies Joe LaCava and Joe LaCava Jr. during the final round of the PNC Championship at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club Grande Lakes   on December 19, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Charlie Woods and Tiger Woods wait to play a shot on the first hole with caddies Joe LaCava and Joe LaCava Jr. during the final round of the PNC Championship at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club Grande Lakes on December 19, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

But now is Tiger in Augusta trying to see if he can climb that course? Will he spend his afternoon giving it a try?

It’s all speculation, of course. He might not have even been on the jet. He might be coming in for something else. Maybe he just wanted to have a pimento cheese sandwich on the Augusta National veranda and would soon fly home.

Or maybe … he’s going to play.

You can’t blame golf fans for the excitement. Woods remains the most popular and most electrifying player in the game and there is no other event where he is linked more closely than the Masters.

He’s won five green jackets, including his historic performance in 1997 that showed the world what was coming and a feel-good bookend in 2019 that reminded everyone of what he was.

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Woods is someone who loves his privacy while also seeking to generate attention, so maybe this is all a ruse. Maybe he could have announced he was out weeks ago but is just laughing at everyone losing their mind over the possibilities.

Even if not playing was inevitable, though, there is little denying Tiger’s interest in getting back to the PGA Tour, where even just competing would be a major accomplishment.

If Tiger is back next week, if he steps up to that famed first tee surrounded by a massive, roaring gallery, then it will be an astounding moment in a career full of them. He’d be unlikely to make the cut, let alone compete for the championship, but that isn’t the point.

Thirteen months ago, golf fans didn’t know if they’d ever see Tiger Woods walk again, let alone play golf again.

Now they are tracking Gulfstreams to the Masters.

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