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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Tiger Woods unfazed by hype as he targets US Masters success

The American does not believe there is a clear favourite for the first major with a number of players in strong form

Tiger Woods has not been lacking in support as he prepares for his bid to win the US Masters at Augusta on Thursday. Tannen Maury / EPA
Tiger Woods has not been lacking in support as he prepares for his bid to win the US Masters at Augusta on Thursday. Tannen Maury / EPA

Tiger Woods has compared the hype ahead of his first US Masters appearance since 2015 to that which preceded his completion of the 'Tiger Slam'.

But he cautioned against labelling his remarkable comeback the greatest of all time should he go on to win a fifth green jacket at Augusta National on Sunday.

Woods underwent spinal fusion surgery in April last year and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence the following month when he was found asleep at the wheel of his car.

The 42-year-old, who had five prescription drugs in his system, later pleaded guilty to reckless driving and will spend a year on probation and undergo a diversion programme.

Woods only returned to competitive golf in November, but Rory McIlroy believes the 14-time major winner has a "great chance" of more Masters glory after finishing 12th, second and fifth in his last three PGA Tour events.

Asked in his pre-tournament news conference if a victory this week would be the greatest sporting comeback of all time, Woods said: "Well, I have four rounds to play, so let's just kind of slow down.

"I've had anticipation like this prior. If you remember the build up from the PGA of 2000 to the Masters of 2001, nine months of building up what that tournament would mean. And it's the same thing.

"I've got to go play and then let the chips fall where they may, and hopefully I end up on top. But I've got a lot of work to do between now and then.

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"As far as greatest comebacks, I think that one of the greatest comebacks in all of sport is the gentleman who won here, Mr (Ben) Hogan. I mean, he got hit by a bus and came back and won major championships.

"The pain he had to endure, the things he had to do just to play and just how hard it was for him to walk, and he ended up walking 36 holes (in one day) and winning a US Open. That's one of the greatest comebacks there is, and it happens to be in our sport."

Woods admitted he had repeatedly tried to come back from previous back operations before he was ready, including aborted attempts to compete in the Masters in the last two years.

"In hindsight, it was a pipe dream," Woods added. "My back was fried. I tried cortisone shots, epidurals, anything to take away the pain, so I might be able to withstand a week. Nothing worked. My disc was gone.

"It's been a tough road. The pain of just sitting there, the amount of times I've fallen because my leg didn't work or had to lay on the ground. Those were dark times.

"The reason I said I'm a walking miracle is because I don't know anyone that's had a lower back fusion that can swing the club as fast as I can. Some of the guys have said I need to fuse my back so I can hit it harder!"

Woods is among the favourites for the first major of the year, but admits he will have his work cut out to win against a large number of in-form rivals.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson and McIlroy have all tasted victory this season, while 2015 winner Jordan Spieth was third in the Houston Open on Sunday.

"I don't think there's one clear-cut favourite," Woods said. "I think there's so many guys playing well at the same time. I think that's what is making this year's Masters so exciting. There are guys from the early 20s to Phil at 47 that have all played well.

"We know we're going to have to play well in order to win, and it's going to be quite a challenge. It's going to be fun."