Fred Couples: Tiger Woods looks no different than 10 years ago

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods participated in tournament activities at Augusta National for the first time since 2015, playing a nine-hole practice round on Monday with Fred Couples and Justin Thomas and drawing rave reviews in the process.

With an enthusiastic gallery following, Woods looked at ease as he played the front nine in warm conditions on the first day the course was open to spectators for the Masters Tournament, which begins Thursday.

"He hit a few drives that were well worth watching, whether you paid for it or are in the tournament like me," said Couples, 58, who won the Masters in 1992.

Woods, 42, who has won the Masters four times, has not played in the tournament since his tie for 17th in 2015. He has missed three of the previous four Masters due to back problems and has not played in a major championship since missing the cut at the 2015 PGA Championship.

Couples, who will make his 33rd start in the tournament, has been plagued by back issues for 25 years but has never had surgery. The latest issues have kept him from competing on the PGA Tour Champions for the past eight weeks.

Since he never had surgery, Couples said he doesn't know what to make of the spinal fusion Woods had a year ago. But he does know the slightest thing can affect someone with back issues, such as twisting the wrong way or lifting a child.

From the couple of hours they were together on the course, Couples said he saw little wrong with Woods.

"He's doing well," Couples said. "If you watched him play today, there's not much of a back problem. He's hitting it a long way, and it looks beautiful. Today wasn't any different than it was 10 years ago when we played. It was pretty awesome."

Woods did not speak with reporters afterward and headed straight to the practice area.

Couples also revealed he'll be part of a Tuesday morning practice round with Woods and Phil Mickelson. Thomas Pieters is set to join the group as well.

"I think Thomas and I will just sit back and watch," Couples said.