Hopes were raised on Thursday night that Tiger Woods will participate in next week’s Masters when he was listed on the interview schedule to face the press on Tuesday.
The cynics will point out that Woods is due that night to attend the Champions’ Dinner, regardless of whether he is fit enough to play. Of course, it is also the 20th anniversary of his first green-jacket and he does have a recently published book on his stunning triumph promote.
Yet on the back of rumours that Woods has been practicing with his coach, Chris Como, near his home in Florida this week, the optimism that he will play in just second Masters in four weeks inevitably increased.
Woods, 41, has been out since withdrawing from February’s Dubai Desert Classic with back spasms after an opening 77. That was only his second official competition after returning from a 15-month absence recovering from multiple back surgeries.
Woods is expected to make an announcement on Friday just as he has in the last three years in the week before Augusta. Two years ago, Woods finished in a tie for 17th. Ranked 757th in the world, the four-time Masters winner is generally rated as a 100-1 outsider by the bookmakers.
Barring a calamity, Rickie Fowler will be in the Augusta field and, on Thursday's evidence here at the Shell Houston Open, he must be classed a threat to the favourites.
Considering the garishness of his outfits, it is hard to imagine the American ever getting away with hiding in the shadows. However, there is no doubt the brunt of the focus will be elsewhere next week.
Except, this brilliant first-round 64 indicated that at least a portion of the Augusta spotlight should be reserved for this wildly popular 28-year-old.
Certainly, Fowler is in the right form to launch a challenge for his first major crown. He won at last month’s Honda Classic, hammering a quality field by four shots, despite a scrappy end and this eight-under, bogeyless morning handed him a three-shot advantage was so well-timed. At the Honda, Fowler made all of his 57 putts within seven feet and here he did not miss from within 10 feet. As a dress rehearsal, it was very impressive start indeed.
“There’s a lot of good stuff going on,” Fowler, the world No 9, said. “I've been putting in work in the gym and spent some quality time with Butch [Harmon, his coach]. I really like where I'm at right now.”