Woods will be making his first start in more than two months, since he quit during his second round at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods talked a good game Tuesday.

Thursday, the world will find out if he still can play at the top level when he begins his quest for a fifth Masters title at Augusta National.

It’s a question that has dominated the spotlight here, as Woods will be making his first start in more than two months, since he quit during his opening round at Torrey Pines in San Diego, saying, “My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf.”

The Masters

Augusta National Golf Club (7,435 yards, par 72)

Television: ESPN (Thursday-Friday, noon-4:30 p.m.) and Ch. 7 (Saturday, noon-4 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.).

Leading odds (from Vegasinsider.com): Jordan Spieth 8-1, Rory McIlroy 8-1, Bubba Watson 10-1, Dustin Johnson 12-1, Jason Day 12-1, Jimmy Walker 18-1.

Locals: Puyallup’s Ryan Moore (7:41 a.m. tee time Thursday); Seattle’s Fred Couples (10:26 a.m. Thursday).

His words Tuesday could not have been more different, as Woods was relaxed, playful and confident, insisting over and over he would not be at Augusta if he were not ready.

“I’m excited to be back, to be back playing at this level,” Woods said to a standing-room-only gathering in the Masters media center. “I feel like my game is finally ready to compete at this level.”

Woods’ short game — something that’s critical at Augusta — had particularly suffered before his self-imposed break. He missed the cut in Phoenix with an 82, his worst score as a pro.

Talking about the past two months, Woods, 39, said, “I worked my (butt) off. People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again. But it was sunup to sundown.”

This will be the 20th Masters for Woods, who said he also is going to play in the par-3 event Wednesday. His most recent victory here was 10 years ago.

“I’ve come close,” he said. “Probably half those tournaments I had a chance to win on the back nine (Sunday). I just didn’t get it done.”

Woods, who has fallen to 111th in the world rankings, would defy the odds if he is in contention this week on the final nine holes. He has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open and has not finished in the top 20 in a PGA Tour event since 2013.

Yet there is no doubt who commands the most attention. It’s certainly not Rory McIlroy, the world’s top-ranked player who can win his third consecutive major and complete the career grand slam at age 25 with a victory this week.

He followed Woods in the media room, drawing a crowd about half the size.

“I think everyone is just curious to see how he comes back,” McIlroy said of Woods. “I don’t think you should underestimate him. I had a good chat with him on the putting green today. He feels good. He’s been working hard. He’s got the motivation to keep at it, and just like everyone else, I’ll be looking at his score and seeing what he’s doing.”


• McIlroy said he does not know much about Chambers Bay in University Place, the site of June’s U.S. Open. “I am going to come the week before,” he said, “but won’t make a special trip beforehand.”

• Puyallup’s Ryan Moore will be in one of the featured groups as he will be paired with McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, a two-time Masters champion. Their tee time Thursday is 7:41 a.m. Pacific time.

• Seattle native Fred Couples, 55, tees off at 10:26 a.m. Pacific time. Couples, who won the Masters in 1992, has been in early contention the past five years, being no worse than ninth after the second round in that span.