(Reuters) – Justin Thomas reckons a healthy Tiger Woods will have a good chance of challenging at April’s Masters, while at the same time reserving judgment over the 14-times major champion’s comeback.
Pointing out that several veterans have superb records at Augusta National, Thomas said on Monday that Woods could follow the example set by the likes of Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples.
“If he’s healthy, there’s no reason he wouldn’t (play well),” Thomas said in a teleconference call.
“There’s a reason Freddie played so well there for so long (and) Langer… because it’s such an advantage knowing the course and the more you play, the world of difference it makes.”
Woods, who turns 42 on Dec. 30, has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005.
Couples, the 1992 champion, now aged 58, has continued to perform well at Augusta into his 50s, finishing in the top 20 on six of his past seven appearances.
Germany’s twice Masters champion Langer, meanwhile, was in contention at the age of 57 going into the final round in 2014, before finishing equal eighth.
Woods is attempting a comeback after multiple back surgeries. He has hardly played over the past two years and while few expect him to recapture his previous greatness, the jury is still out.
“If he plays healthy, I think he’ll have a great year,” said Thomas, who played with Woods in the final round of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas two weeks ago.
“It’s hard to not hype it up or talk about this or that but in reality we need to see what happens because no one knows.
“He was just so happy (at the World Challenge), which was cool to see. I’ve spent some time with him the last couple of years and I’ve never seen him so happy … having so much fun and grinding it out and playing well.”
World number three Thomas is coming off a brilliant year highlighted by his major breakthrough victory at the PGA Championship in August.
He won four other events in 2017 and has set new goals for 2018, though he is not sharing them publicly.
Thomas has enjoyed some time off recently recharging his batteries for the new season, which he will kick off in two weeks’ time by defending his title at the season opening Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in Hawaii.
The 24-year-old said he had done little during his break and outlined a typical day that consists of lounging on the couch at his south Florida home, punctuated by trips to the gym and a dip in the swimming pool.
“When you do win, it takes so much out of you,” he said. “It was such a crazy end of the year. It caught up to me.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)