A victory in a major "catapults you into another realm", so says Tiger Woods ahead of his remarkable comeback at the Masters.

Woods, who has not featured in a competition since he played at Augusta National in November 2020, is making an unexpected return to top-level golf just over a year after suffering serious leg and foot injuries in a car crash in California.

The 46-year-old completed an incredible comeback tale in 2019 when he won a fifth green jacket at the Masters, taking his number of major victories to 15, after returning from spinal surgery.

Woods is returning to Augusta 25 years after winning his first major at the famous Georgia course. Since then, no other player has won more of the big four tournaments than the American.

And Woods explained how a victory in a major sends a golfer into a "different league".

Woods told Sky Sports: "They're the four biggest events that we have in our sport. To win one, it catapults you into another realm and into a different league of respect from your peers.

"The players that have won major championships and especially those who have won multiple understand how difficult it is.

"All of us can have hot weeks, right, so if you time it up right and win a major championship, that's great. But the guys who have won multiples, it takes you into a different realm and different respect from your peers."

 

Only the great Jack Nicklaus (six) has won the Masters more times than Woods (five), who is also the youngest player to don the green jacket, at the age of 21 years and 104 days.

If he wins the tournament for a record-equalling sixth time, he will overtake Nicklaus as the oldest player to win it.

Asked what state of mind it takes to win a major when it comes to the final round, Woods said: "If you've got a chance to be there with a chance to win, that means you’re playing well, you're not slapping it all over the place.

"To be in that position, a lot of things have had to go right, you should have an understanding of what you're capable of doing, then it's just getting a feel for what is going to be needed, what that score is going to be.

"It's about getting a feel for what is needed. The hard part is going out and executing it and getting it done."

The Masters is the only major in which Woods has always made the cut as a professional (21 out of 21). He has secured a top-five finish in 12 of those appearances.

Woods is also the last player to win the Masters in successive seasons, doing so in 2001 and 2002. The only other golfers to have achieved the feat are Nicklaus (1965-1966) and Nick Faldo (1989-1990). 

Peaking too soon is a problem for every golf season, for the Masters at Augusta – the first major of the year – is what the sport is all about.

The greatest names have embarked on Georgia in pursuit of a prized green jacket.

But to enjoy a successful Sunday this week, players must get to grips with perhaps the biggest star of them all: the iconic course itself.

Augusta is what makes the Masters the Masters, so Stats Perform breaks down where one of the most prestigious tournaments sport might be won and lost.

LONGEST HOLE

At 575 yards, the par-five second hole – Pink Dogwood – is the longest on the course, but that does not mean it is the toughest, instead offering some respite following the tricky first.

Historically, number two has been played in 4.78 strokes on average, making it the third-easiest hole at Augusta in relation to par. In fact, the lowest average on record came in 2020 (4.467) – and that was not a mere quirk of the strange conditions around the course in recent years without the usual crowds, given the highest average, in 1957, was 4.996. Yep, the second has never played at even par or worse.

SHORTEST HOLE

Skill rather than strength is required to negotiate Redbud, the 170-yard, par-three 16th. Considered too easy in the tournament's early days, the installation of a pond added some peril – and plenty of drama. With three bunkers around the green, too, the tee shot has to be pretty perfect or something spectacular will be required to come up with a birdie, as Tiger Woods will attest. "In your life, have you seen anything like that?"

Unsurprisingly, though, given its length, the 16th is also the setting for the vast majority of the Masters' holes-in-one. Of the 33 in tournament history, 23 have come at Redbud, including the first from amateur Ross Somerville at the inaugural tournament in 1934 but also 16 since the turn of the century. The last came courtesy of Tommy Fleetwood in 2021.

HARDEST HOLE

Think of Augusta and you will likely quickly focus on Amen Corner, but the most daunting challenge of all lies at the hole immediately prior: the par-four number 10 Camellia. Statistically, with a stroke average of 4.3 (0.3 over par), this is as tough as it gets – albeit only fractionally ahead of the 11th.

With its lowest stroke average 4.082 in 2018, the 10th has never played at even par or better... unless your name is Jordan Spieth. The 2015 Masters champion has a real knack around Camellia, with four birdies in four rounds last year. Few others have been able to follow Spieth's example at what was originally the first hole.

EASIEST HOLE

With the hardest hole followed by the second-ranked 11th and fourth-ranked 12th, there might be a sense of relief at Azalea, the par-five number 13 with a 4.77 stroke average. But there is very much a risk-reward approach to this 510-yard hole, at which the player can go for the green in two but must beware the water to the left and the trees to the right.

This is another set-up that suits Spieth well, as it does the absent Phil Mickelson, even if his most memorable shot at Azalea was not exactly an exhibition in playing the hole. An error created the opportunity for Mickelson's six-iron from the pine straw on Sunday in 2010.

THE RECORDS

The course record belongs to Nick Price and Greg Norman, who both shot 63s, but perhaps it should come as no surprise Spieth has the best career average of all players to play 25 or more rounds at Augusta, with his 70.46 leading Woods' 70.87.

That mark will come under threat should Dustin Johnson (71.03) produce anything like his sensational record-breaking 2020 performance again, however. Helped by carding only four bogeys – a low among Masters champions – Johnson's 20-under total of 268 trimmed two off the previous week-long benchmark owned jointly by Woods and Spieth.

Still, with Cameron Smith and Im Sung-jae 'only' five back, Woods' record winning margin of 12 strokes to Tom Kite in 1997 remained.

There is nothing in golf quite like The Masters.

Arguably the most prestigious of the majors, Augusta National becomes the centre of the sporting world once more over the weekend, as the famous green jacket goes up for grabs again.

In 1997, Tiger Woods won his first major when he triumphed in Georgia, and 25 years on he is set to make a sensational comeback from injury.

But Woods is not the only name to look out for.

 

The favourites

Let's start from the top. Scottie Scheffler is the world's new number one and he heads into the weekend on the back of three victories in his last five events, having not finished worse than T-19th in his six major appearances since 2020.

Scheffler said he has been resting up at home ahead of travelling to Augusta, where he joked he has already been brought down a peg or two.

He told Sky Sports: "I've been humbled a couple of times already, showing up here. The guy who picked me up in the cart this morning called me Xander, so that brought me down to earth real quick! It's been great, really looking forward to this week."

The Xander in question is Xander Schauffele. He finished T3 last year, three shots back from the champion Hideki Matsuyama, and was looking good on his final round until he sent a ball into the water on the 16th, but he won gold at the Tokyo Olympics and comes into the tournament in strong form.

Reigning champion Matsuyama cast doubt over his participation when he withdrew from the Texas Open with a neck problem, meanwhile, which may hinder his title defence.

 

Brooks Koepka has won four majors, but did not make the cut last year and will be out to put that right this time around, having defeated Jon Rahm in the WGC-Match Play last 16. 

Rahm has finished in the top 10 in each of his last four Masters appearances. However, the Spaniard has not won a tournament since triumphing in the US Open last year, but did secure a place in the top 10 in all four of last year's majors.

Dustin Johnson failed to make the cut in 2021 in a torrid title defence. He had dropped out of the top 10 up until an impressive performance at the WGC-Match Play moved him up to number eight, and he'll be determined to rekindle the form that saw him clinch the green jacket in 2020.

Viktor Hovland is ranked fourth in the world, though his weak chipping game may prove costly to his chances at Augusta, while Collin Morikawa cannot be discounted for a third major title and Justin Thomas will be out to win a second major having won the US PGA Championship in 2017.

 

The outsiders

Augusta is where golfers can shoot to stardom over the course of four spectacular days, and there will be plenty of the field who fancy their chances despite not being among the bookmakers' favourites.

One such player capable of a challenge is Cameron Smith. The Australian is ranked at a career-high six, won the Players' Championship last month and has finished inside the top 10 in three of the last four Masters.

Will Zalatoris, meanwhile, comes into the weekend with the best SG (strokes gained, which compares a player's score to the field average) tee-to-green* statistics on the PGA Tour this season, with his 1.767 average just edging out Thomas, and he came second on his Masters debut in 2021.

Zalatoris only has one pro win to his name so far but the 25-year-old has largely impressed at the majors. He finished T2 in 2021 at Augusta and T8 in last year's PGA Championship, while recording a T6 finish in the 2020 US Open.

Rory McIlroy's Masters record is frustrating. It is the only major the former world number one has not yet won. He finished in the top 10 six times between 2014 and 2020 before missing the cut last year, and now he'll have another stab at sealing a career Grand Slam, though his best finish this season has been third in the Dubai Desert Classic.

 

Only five players have previously completed a clean sweep of the majors, and McIlroy has not won one of the big four events since 2014.

Russell Henley will feature for the first time since 2018 after 12 top 10 finishes in the past year, and he has finished in the top 25 at Augusta three times, while Bryson DeChambeau is going to compete despite missing a chunk of the season with a hip problem. He finished T46 on three-over-par in 2021.

Marc Leishman finished fifth a year ago, improving on T13 from 2020, and Sergio Garcia will at least hope to make the cut for the first time since he won in 2017. Perhaps if the Spaniard can just make the weekend, he can go all the way again?

 

The return of the king

As far as comeback stories go in sport, Woods has already provided one of the very best.

In 2019, against all odds following years of back issues and surgery to fix the problems, Woods won The Masters for a fifth time in his illustrious career, taking his total of major victories to 15. He trails only Jack Nicklaus in that regard.

But this comeback might just top the lot.

The 46-year-old admitted he cheated death in a major single-car crash in February 2021, which left him with serious leg and foot injuries. Woods was unable to walk unaided for several months and has not played serious golf since, but he is all set for a remarkable return on the biggest stage of them all.

It will be his first appearance in any tournament since he played at Augusta in November 2020. Since winning his maiden major a quarter of a century ago, Woods has claimed nine more major titles than any other player, while he is one of only three players to win successive Masters titles (2001 and 2002).

Woods has never failed to make the cut in 21 appearances, and even if he does not challenge at the top of the leaderboard this time around (though you would not put it past him) his comeback is already the story of the weekend.

 

Bryson DeChambeau is thrilled to see Tiger Woods back and ready to feature at The Masters, though he is unsure just quite how the 15-time major winner has overcome adversity once again.

Woods, who remarkably won the Masters in 2019 after coming back from spinal surgery, suffered serious leg and foot injuries in a car crash in California in February 2021.

The 46-year-old was unsure if he would ever play professionally again yet, 14 months after the accident, he is set to make a remarkable return to action at Augusta National, where he won his maiden major title in 1997.

It will be the first competitive action for Woods since he competed at The Masters in November 2020.

DeChambeau, who is overcoming his own injury issues to feature in the season's first major, is delighted to have Woods back on the course.

And while the big-driving American is unsure just how Woods has managed to come back, he has tipped the five-time Masters champion to make a bid for glory.

"Its great to see his face. I mean, I was walking down, I was teeing off on 3, and he was walking down 17. He just, like, jumped up and raised up, and we were both kind of air high fiving, like saying, 'what's up'," DeChambeau told a news conference.

"It's just great to see him in a positive frame of mind. I haven't spoken to him much, but I have seen him and it seems likes he's in a really great frame of mind and he wants to win.

"Obviously, he's determined to win. He wants to come back here and win. Tiger is Tiger, and you can never count him out. He is one that may shock a lot of people if he does tee it up this week.

"Very, very excited to have him back. Creates a lot of hype and, shoot, from the driving range, we could hear the loud roar when he came out of the clubhouse up to that first tee, and that was pretty special to see or hear at least.

"I couldn't be happier for him in the place he's at right now, coming back, and proud of him, too. Shoot, coming back off that injury, we've had some conversations, and man, I don't know how he's done it. It's very impressive."

While DeChambeau is looking to make a vast improvement on his T46 finish at Augusta from last year, Jon Rahm heads into the tournament aiming to add a second major title to his collection, having recently lost the world number one ranking to Scottie Scheffler.

But the Spaniard, too, has not failed to get caught up in the excitement of Woods' return.

"You can feel it. A lot of it is Tiger," Rahm said when asked about the excitement surrounding the build-up at Augusta. "I was playing with Tony Finau on the front nine yesterday. We were about four or five holes ahead, we were on 7, and they [Tiger's group] were walking down on 2, and I've never seen a mass this big, even on a Sunday in contention, on those two holes.

"It feels like this Monday they allowed way more people to come in just because the last two years had limited invitations, COVID, and what everybody has gone through. More people wanted to come out, then Tiger's playing, so a lot more people are coming out Monday trying to see him. It's a combination of things, I think.

"There's a lot more electricity in the air in that sense, and you have Tiger being there, yeah. Monday felt like a Saturday in a regular event."

Woods has been grouped with Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann for the first round on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy described Tiger Woods' return at The Masters as a "wonderful thing" after the 15-time major winner confirmed his planned participation at Augusta.

Woods is set to make a sensational bid for a sixth green jacket this week, playing competitively for the first time since failing to defend his 2019 Masters title in November 2020.

The 46-year-old suffered serious leg and foot injuries in a car crash in February 2021. He was unable to walk unaided for several months.

However, after practicing at Augusta this week, Woods said on Tuesday: "As of right now I feel like I'm going to play."

Asked if he thought he could win the Masters, Woods - who has been grouped with Joaquin Niemann and Louis Oosthuizen - replied: "I do."

McIlroy is looking to complete a career Grand Slam by finally ending his wait for a first Masters title, but he unsurprisingly faced questions on Woods' return.

"Tiger has been wonderful for us all in this room. He creates attention on the game of golf that no one else can," McIlroy replied when asked if he would be surprised if Woods was still in contention on Sunday. 

"That's great for his peers. It's great for the media. It's great for this golf club. It's great for everyone. So, any time Tiger Woods is involved, it's a wonderful thing.

"I think in terms of the competitive nature of it, if he's in the field or not, I don't think it really changes much. You're trying to focus on yourself, and he can't stop you shooting a 67 if you play well. It's not like any other sport. So, I don't think that changes much.

"But would I be -- I wouldn't be surprised. I've spent a little bit of time with him at home, and the golf is there. He's hitting it well. He's chipping well. He's sharp. It's just the physical demand of getting around 72 holes here this week. That's probably the question mark. But the golf game is there. So, would I be surprised? No, I'm not surprised at anything he does anymore."

On whether the hype around Woods makes it easier to fly under the radar, McIlroy replied: "I mean, I try to shield myself from as much news as possible, especially this week. So not really, depending on whether you're the centre of attention or not.

"I think it does make it nice with the practice rounds. We were on the ninth green when Tiger and J.T. [Justin Thomas] and Freddie [Fred Couples] teed off yesterday [Monday], and it was a mass exodus from the ninth green to the first tee, and then the back nine was lovely and quiet.

"That's a nice way to get through the first week and sort of go about your preparation, I guess, unhindered."

Tiger Woods has no doubt he can win The Masters for a sixth time as the legendary American prepares to make another sensational comeback.

Woods was unable to walk unaided for several months and has not played competitive golf since he sustained serious leg and foot injuries in a car crash in February 2021.

The 46-year-old was unsure if he would ever return to the top level but, extraordinarily, he is all set to make a remarkable comeback at Augusta National this week.

Woods, who won his first Masters title in Georgia 25 years ago, confirmed in a news conference on Tuesday that he feels ready to make a first appearance in a tournament since he played in the 2020 Masters.

While he will reassess after another nine holes of practice on Wednesday, Woods has firm belief that he can go on to win the title once again, having taken the green jacket in 2019 after recovering from serious back problems.

"I do," he replied when asked if he believed he could win at Augusta again.

He expanded: "I can hit it just fine. I don't have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. It's now walking is the hard part.

"This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now given the conditions that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult.

"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."

 

Explaining the process of being in a position to make his comeback, Woods said: "I've worked hard. My team has been unbelievable. I've been lucky to have great surgeons and great PTs and physios that have worked on me virtually every day.

"We've worked hard to get to this point, to get to this opportunity to walk the grounds, test it out, and see if I can do this.

"It's been a tough, tough year and a lot of stuff that I had to deal with that I don't wish on anyone, but here we are, Masters week. Being able to play and practice -- for me, more importantly, just to say thank you to all the guys that have texted me, FaceTimed me, and called me and given me all their support, to see them in person and to say thank you has meant a lot.

"It's just a matter of what my body's able to do the next day and the recovery. That's the hard part. Yes, we push it and try and recover the best we possibly can that night and see how it is the next morning.

"Then all the activations and going through that whole process again, and you warm it up, and then you warm it back down, or test it out, and then you've got to cool it back down. Then you've got to do that day in and day out."

Asked about his motivation to return, Woods – who has never missed the cut in 21 appearances at Augusta – replied: "I love competing, and I feel like if I can still compete at the highest level, I'm going to, and if I feel like I can still win, I'm going to play. But if I feel like I can't, then you won't see me out here.

"I think that the fact that I was able to get myself here to this point is a success, and now that I am playing, now that everything is focused on how do I get myself into the position where I'm on that back nine on Sunday with a chance? Just like I did a few years ago.

"I never left that hospital bed even to see my living room for three months. So that was a tough road. To finally get out of that where I wasn't in a wheelchair or crutches and walking and still had more surgeries ahead of me, to say that I was going to be here playing and talking to you guys again, it would have been very unlikely."

Tiger Woods on Tuesday confirmed he is planning to make a sensational Masters comeback this week.

The 46-year-old acknowledged he cheated death in a car crash that left him with serious leg and foot injuries in February 2021.

Woods was unable to walk unaided for several months and has not played competitive golf since, but says he plans to tee off at Augusta on Thursday as it stands.

The legendary American said in a news conference: "As of right now I feel like I'm going to play."

Woods has played practice rounds over the last week at Augusta to test his body on the hilly course, and he feels ready to take part.

"I'm going to play nine more holes tomorrow. My recovery has been good, I'm very excited about how I've recovered each and every day," he added.

This year marks 25 years since Woods first triumphed at the Georgia course, when he famously won by a record 12 shots to back up the hype that was already surrounding him.

Woods has had four more Masters victories since then, most recently in 2019 when he produced a stirring success, having gone 11 years without landing a major.

He sits second on the list of all-time Masters winners, one shy of Jack Nicklaus' six titles, and is eligible to play due to past champions receiving a lifetime exemption.

Woods has not played on the PGA Tour since November 2020, and at the time of his car accident he was recovering from back surgery. He is the world number 973, having been inactive for almost 18 months, and no longer a young man.

Back problems have plagued Woods in the latter half of his career, meaning that expectations he would fly past Nicklaus' record of 18 majors have proven presumptuous.

Whether he can be anywhere close to competitive seems doubtful, but comebacks have to start somewhere, and Woods has decided there is no place better than Augusta.

Tiger Woods on Tuesday confirmed he is planning to make a sensational Masters comeback this week.

The 46-year-old acknowledged he cheated death in a car crash that left him with serious leg and foot injuries in February 2021.

Woods was unable to walk unaided for several months and has not played competitive golf since, but says he plans to tee off at Augusta on Thursday as it stands.

The legendary American said in a news conference: "As of right now I feel like I'm going to play."

After two years of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, things are back to normal at Augusta National for this year's much-anticipated Masters – though choosing a winner is as tough as ever.

Dustin Johnson won the delayed 2020 event with a record score after it was pushed back by seven months from its usual slot, while Hideki Matsuyama made history of his own last year by becoming the first Japanese male to win a major.

Matsuyama's triumph was a memorable one, albeit with only a limited number of patrons present in Georgia due to social distancing measures being in place, though the build-up to his title defence has been far from ideal as he continues to battle a back injury.

Golf's elite can look forward to the return of spectators for the 86th edition of the most prestigious tournament of them all – and if excitement was not already at fever pitch, Augusta could also see the return of Tiger Woods, who has not played on the PGA Tour since November 2020 after being involved in a car accident.

But exactly who is best placed to claim the green jacket in the first major of the year? The expert team at Stats Perform have a go at answering that question ahead of the tee off on Thursday.

RAHM TO ADD TO US OPEN SUCCESS – Daniel Lewis

Despite being usurped by Scottie Scheffler at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking after an admittedly slow start to the year, Jon Rahm remains the man to beat heading into the Masters. The 27-year-old has posted top-four finishes in each major, while also finishing inside the top 10 in each of his last five participations. Following his success at the US Open at Torrey Pines 10 months ago, this is Rahm's time to shine at Augusta. 

SMITH TO GO ONE BETTER THAN 2020 – Patric Ridge

Less than a month on from his triumph at the Players' Championship, world number six Cameron Smith seems well placed to go on and seal a maiden major triumph. The Australian finished T2 at Augusta in 2020, albeit five strokes back from Johnson. But he comes into this tournament ranked higher than ever before in his career, and the 28-year-old has won two of the five events he has featured in this year. A T10 placing in last year's Masters will have been a disappointment, but Smith has the tools, and the form, to challenge this time around.

GOOD WILL HUNTING FOR GREEN JACKET – Peter Hanson

A year ago, you could be forgiven for not knowing a lot about Will Zalatoris. But the then 24-year-old finished just one stroke shy of eventual winner Matsuyama, and his clean ball striking will be a big advantage on a typically unforgiving Augusta course. Voted PGA Tour Rookie of the Year for 2021, Zalatoris has three top-10 finishes in 2022, including losing a play-off to Luke List at the Farmers Insurance Open. And how about this if you want more persuading: eight of the past 10 Masters champions were at 1.7 or better strokes gained tee to green in the three months leading into the Masters. Zalatoris is one of eight players who meet that criteria heading into the 2022 instalment.

DON'T BE A-DOUBTING THOMAS, BACK JUSTIN – John Skilbeck

Until his challenged fizzled out over the weekend last year, when he went from only three shots back to finish tied for 21st place, Justin Thomas was following a trajectory that seemed sure to lead to Masters glory. His record showed year-on-year progress, going from a tie for 39th in 2016, to a tie for 22nd a year later, then tied 17th in 2017, tied 12th in 2019, and fourth outright in 2020. Amid this, he won the 2017 US PGA Championship, and Thomas is too good a player to sit too long on just one major. He has the second-lowest scoring average this season on the PGA Tour, has three top-10 finishes in the past two months, and Augusta practice rounds with his great friend Tiger Woods can hardly have hindered his cause.

TIGER... JUST IMAGINE! – Russell Greaves

Lazarus was a one-trick pony, but if Woods were to win the Masters again it would constitute the second bona fide sporting miracle of his remarkable career. Woods' triumph in 2019 – his fifth at Augusta National – was his 15th major success, coming 11 years after his previous one. He became only the third golfer over 40 to win a major on US soil, joining Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Now 46 and absent from competitive action since 2020 following his car accident, a win here would surpass anything Woods has ever achieved. He needs one more to equal Jack Nicklaus' six Masters titles, but would be putting a proud record on the line if he does choose to compete, as Woods has made the cut in each of his 21 appearances at this event.

World number one Scottie Scheffler has welcomed the possible participation of Tiger Woods at the Masters ahead of the start of the Augusta tournament.

Fifteen-time major winner Woods, who has triumphed five times at the tournament, has not played on the PGA Tour since failing to defend his 2019 Masters title in November 2020.

After undergoing back surgery the following month, the 46-year-old then sustained major injuries in a car accident in February last year.

However, some 25 years on from his first triumph at Augusta, the American was listed among the expected 91 participants for the Masters, which begins on Thursday.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Scheffler said when asked if the spectre of Woods had deflected attention: "I would say having Tiger anywhere deflects a lot of attention from any of us. It's definitely easier to fly under the radar and we're all excited, hopefully he can come out and play this week, it should be a fun week if he does."

Woods famously won the 2019 Masters after returning from multiple back surgeries.

Scheffler recently shot up the rankings from fifth to first after a series of tournament wins, including last month's WGC Match Play, but insists he will not take his new position for granted.

"I haven't had too much time to reflect, just been trying to get some rest at home," he said. "I've been working hard for my whole life to play out here on the PGA Tour and I've had some success recently. I'm very happy to have had that but I'm not going to take it for granted.

"I only checked it once [the ranking] and it was there! Number one was never something I looked for, you set milestones and really just getting into the top 50 so you can play in the majors, that's where you try to get to. After that you're really just playing tournaments. I've been fortunate to win a few recently."

The 25-year-old also revealed he is keeping his feet firmly grounded, assisted by an incident in which he was mistaken for world number 10, Xander Schauffele.

"I've been humbled a couple of times already, showing up here," he added. "The guy who picked me up in the cart this morning called me Xander, so that brought me down to earth real quick.

"It's been great, really looking forward to this week."

JJ Spaun landed the Valero Texas Open title after coming back from a double-bogey on the first hole to shoot 69 in the final round, clinching a place at the Masters in the process.

Spaun finished two strokes clear of the field on 13 under par, with Australian Matt Jones and American Matt Kuchar sharing second place at 11 under.

With his win, the Californian became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2008 to win a PGA Tour event after double-bogeying the opening hole of the final round.

The 31-year-old went bogey-free the rest of the way, collecting birdies on the sixth, eighth, ninth, 11th and 14th holes – giving him a birdie on the par-five 14th hole in all four rounds.

It is the first PGA Tour win of Spaun's career, and with it, he punched his ticket to Augusta National in just a few days.

Spaun said the scale of his achievement was hard to believe.

"I think a year ago to even be on tour I would have been telling you I'd have to do a lot of work to get there," he said.

"But to be here, and to overcome a lot of things and finally get a win, that's everything you dream of. It's incredible. I'm speechless."

On his early double-bogey and how he recovered, he said the moment actually calmed him down.

"It didn't bother me as much as you would think – if anything, it kind of calmed me down," he said.

"I knew there was still a lot of golf, and I would rather double the first hole than the last hole, so I just knew if I stayed patient and kept plugging away and put myself in contention with nine holes to play, that's all I could ask for."

The best performances from the fourth round were a pair of 66s posted by Jones, who finished second, and Keegan Bradley, who jumped up into a tie for eighth.

Among those one stroke worse on the day with 67s were Canadian Adam Hadwin, who finished in a tie for fourth, and Jordan Spieth, who was at even par coming into the round and flew up the leaderboard into a tie for 35th at five under.

Of the three joint-leaders with Spaun coming into Sunday's play, Beau Hossler finished the highest, tied for fourth at 10 under after shooting even par; South African Dylan Frittelli dropped one stroke and tied for eighth; and Brandt Snedeker ended with a whimper, finishing three over for the round to fall to a tie for 18th.

After a scorching start to the week saw Russell Knox as the outright leader with a first-round 65, he followed it with rounds of 76, 71 and 76 again to finish the weekend where the cut-line was at even par.

Tiger Woods will make a late call on whether he takes part in the Masters after revealing he would continue his preparation at Augusta on Sunday.

Fifteen-time major winner Woods, who has triumphed five times at the tournament, has not played on the PGA Tour since November 2020.

The 46-year-old underwent back surgery the following month and then sustained major injuries in a car accident in February last year.

Woods previously admitted he was lucky to survive and simply making a recovery was his top priority, rather than a return to golf.

However, some 25 years on from his first triumph at Augusta, the American has been listed among the expected 91 participants for the 2022 Masters, which begins on April 7.

Woods, who famously won the 2019 Masters after returning from multiple back surgeries, confirmed he will do everything he can to take part in one of golf's most prestigious events.

Posting on Twitter, he wrote: "I will be heading up to Augusta today to continue my preparation and practice. It will be a game-time decision on whether I compete."

Brandt Snedeker and Beau Hossler both shot five-under-par 67 to join JJ Spaun and Dylan Frittelli atop the leaderboard, after the third round of the Valero Texas Open on Saturday.

Spaun and Frittelli bogeyed the last par-five 18th hole to finish on 10-under-par after 54 holes, shooting rounds of 69 and 70 respectively on Saturday.

It would have been a five-way tie for the lead had Scott Stallings not also bogeyed the final hole, finding the rough and then the far-side bunker on his second and third shots.

Among the many in the field who have yet to qualify for the US Masters, Matt Kuchar is two strokes back from the leaders on eight-under-par after three rounds.

In what is essentially the final qualifier for the first major of the year, and having missed the cut at Augusta last year, Kuchar is aware of the stakes.

"I think quality play trumps anything," he said.

"I'd take execution over course knowledge any day of the week. I think it's going to take just quality golf tomorrow to win this thing."

After shooting a bogey-free round on Friday, second round leader Ryan Palmer tumbled down the leaderboard on Saturday with a five-over-par 77, finishing in 21st on five-under-par.

Spaun and Hossler are both looking for their first PGA Tour win, while Frittelli last won in 2019 at the John Deere Classic and Snedeker took the Wyndham Championship in 2018.

Hossler finished with momentum on Saturday, making three consecutive birdies from the 14th hole. His career-best finish was a second at the Houston Open in 2018.

A win for Snedeker would make for his 13th trip to Augusta.

Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau were among the big names whose preparation for the 2022 Masters took a blow at the Valero Texas Open on Friday.

In the last week before the first major of the year, McIlroy, DeChambeau, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler all missed the cut.

With the cut line at one under par, McIlroy's second-round 73 left him one over, while DeChambeau was way off the pace at five over following his 76.

DeChambeau has not long returned from injury, finishing bottom of his group at last week's WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, losing two of his three matches and tying the other.

When he started with a triple-bogey on Friday, it became clear the 2020 U.S. Open champion would not be continuing into the weekend in Texas.

Meanwhile, McIlroy had been in encouraging form a month ago, but his performances have gradually declined to the point an Augusta challenge again seems unlikely.

The Masters remains the only major McIlroy is yet to win.

While the big names faltered, world number 547 Kevin Chappell excelled, finishing his second round in a tie for second place, two shots behind leader Ryan Palmer.

Once a contender on the PGA Tour, Chappell's only win came at this event five years ago.

"I just feel at ease around this place," he said after shooting a 65. "My soul and this golf course get along. I really enjoy being here.

"I'm excited about where my game is because I don't think I've played great yet.

"It's not like the ball is coming out of the middle of the clubface every time and flying where I'm looking, but I've been able to scramble and get the ball in the hole."

Ryan Palmer holds a two-stroke lead over the field after the second round of the Valero Texas Open.

Palmer, who shot four under in round one, finished with a six-under 66 to move to 10 under.

The American finished the round bogey-free, and three times carded back-to-back birdies on the second and third, eighth and ninth, and 14th and 15th.

Speaking to the media after his round, Palmer said the key to his success is to limit the severity of his mistakes.

"It's a golf course – if you get it off-line, you're going to struggle," he said. 

"I was able to keep the ball in front of me. When I've missed fairways, I've gotten fortunate breaks, I think. 

"[This] weekend, it's a matter of just avoiding those big misses."

Kevin Chappell worked his way into a three-way tie for second after he shot 65 for the best round of the day, and he is joined at eight under by South Africa's Dylan Frittelli and American Matt Kuchar.

Chappell – who is ranked as the world number 547 – played the course beautifully, nabbing an eagle on the par five second hole before going bogey-free and birdieing the eighth, ninth, 12th, 15th and 17th.

The leader after round one, Russell Knox, had a poor day, bogeying four of his first six holes on the way to shooting 76, dropping down to three under and a tie for 27th.

With the cut-line at even par, Jordan Spieth followed up his even par first round with a 70 on Friday to sneak into the frame.

Plenty of notable names who will hope to contest the US Masters crown next week failed to make the cut, including Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau.

 

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