Sport

AUGUSTA BECKONS

Tiger Woods plays through constant pain with Masters ambitions while Lamprecht soaks it all in

Tiger Woods plays through constant pain with Masters ambitions while Lamprecht soaks it all in
Tiger Woods at a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on 9 April, 2024. (Photo: Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

Tiger Woods and Christo Lamprecht are at opposite ends of their careers, but both find deep motivation at the Masters.

Tiger Woods should not be a realistic contender to win a record-equalling sixth green jacket at the Masters, but hearing him speak and hearing his words, few would bet against it.

Woods, 48, has only played one competitive round — not tournament — this year. And by his own admission, he is in “pain every day”. Yet, facing the world’s media at Augusta National before the 2024 Masters, he said he was a contender despite his health issues.

Nearly two years after coming close to losing his leg in a car accident, the battle for fitness is a daily grind.

“The ankle doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s fused,” Woods said. “It’s not going anywhere. So that’s fine. It’s other parts of my body that now have to take the brunt of it.

“So, yeah, once the rods were put in there [ankle], it was good to go.

“But, the back, the knee, other parts of the body have to take the load of it, and just the endurance capability of walking a long time and being on my feet for a long time [hurts].”

He paused for a moment and added, “If everything comes together, I think I can get one more [title].” The press room fell silent. Woods let the pause hang in the air. “Do I need to describe that any more than that, or are we good?”

Some might not believe he has a chance, but Woods most certainly isn’t among them.

Mental strength

It’s easy to write off an ageing, injured old champion at the season’s first major. But Woods isn’t just any past champion. He isn’t just any golfer. He is the alpha of the sport and even now, despite playing so irregularly, he commands respect, he projects power and mental toughness.

“I hurt every day,” Woods said with a wry smile.  “So, yes [I am on painkillers].

“We [Woods and his fitness trainer] work at it each and every day, whether it’s trying to loosen me up or strengthen me or just recover.

“My practice sessions certainly aren’t what they used to be. I used to live on the range or live on a short game facility and just be out there all day.

“That’s no longer the case. So, I just have to be more focused on when I do get a chance to go out there and practice and really grind out and make every shot count because I just really don’t have the ball count in me anymore.”

And he loves Augusta. The course suits him, the warmer weather allows his ailing body to function better than in the cold while he has masses of positive memories of the course. He is aiming to make the halfway cut for a record 24th consecutive time. That in itself would be an achievement.

Woods’ links to the tournament and the course run deep. He won the first of his 15 majors at Augusta as a 21-year-old and his most recent at the Masters as a 43-year-old in 2019.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tiger Woods Wins Masters, Once Again Is Golf’s Biggest Star

“This tournament has meant so much to me in my life and my family. I think I’ve been playing here for, what, 29 years now. It was the ultimate to be able to stay in the Crow’s Nest and to watch Byron [Nelson] and Sam [Snead] and Gene [Sarazen] tee off on the first hole.

“It’s been a part of my life to have won here as my first major as a pro. Hugging my dad, as you saw; then a full circle in 2019 to hug my son.

“It has meant a lot to my family. It’s meant a lot to me.”

Don’t expect to see Woods on top of the leaderboard on Sunday night. But don’t be surprised if he is. He has always had a way of defying the odds.

Christo Lamprecht

South African amateur Christo Lamprecht will make his Masters debut this week. (Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images)

New heights for Lamprecht

While the best of Woods’ career is undoubtedly behind him, Christo Lamprecht, South Africa’s latest golfing prodigy has a promising future ahead of him. And he has been invited to play the Masters for the first time, courtesy of being the world’s leading amateur.

The 2.04-metre Lamprecht can hit the ball miles, as a 375-metre drive on the par five 18th during the Dunhill Championships at Leopard Creek last December revealed.

Length is important at Augusta, but understanding the greens and their slopes, getting a feel for the speed of the surfaces and dealing with the pressure of major championship golf, will all be factors for the 23-year-old Georgia Tech student.

And Augusta being in the state of Georgia, has allowed Lamprecht to play the course several times, which will be advantageous when he tees off alongside 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel and American Luke List on Thursday.

“It’s my first time coming to the Masters, I promised myself the first time I come here is when I play, not come and watch,” Lamprecht said.

“So, this is so cool. It’s so fun. I have a bunch of friends from home that flew over. It’s fun to have some family and friends around. It’s pretty special.”

With regards to having played the course before, Lamprecht pointed out the obvious differences in Masters week.

“If you’re out here by yourself, and there’s not a single person out here except two other groups maybe playing, you have this whole place to yourself and you can’t hear a thing, all you can hear is birds,” Lamprecht said.

“Now it’s just all the noise, and it’s awesome. You can see people everywhere. It’s pretty cool. I’m here to take it all in.”

One of the traditions is that the amateurs in the field [this year there are five] spend a few nights at the accommodation on site called the Crow’s Nest.

For Lamprecht and his massive frame, it has challenges.

“The Crow’s Nest is going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it,” Lamprecht said. “Just sitting around with a bunch of amateurs and talking about our experiences and stuff, just being little kids in a toy store.

“There are very few places in America that have a bed big enough for me, but I’ve gotten used to that. It’s probably the best uncomfortable sleep I’ll ever have in my life. But, I’m just fortunate to be here.” DM

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