Masters 2018: Tiger Woods is back and so is his swing, he says

The 14-time major champion, playing the Masters for the first time since 2015, has set the stage for a historic weekend for sportsbooks.

It's a day that some thought might not happen again.

Tiger Woods will tee off Thursday in his 21st Masters, grouped at 10:42 a.m. ET with Aussie Marc Leishman and Briton Tommy Fleetwood.

And like many in the golf world over the past three years, Woods himself didn't think he would ever feel as good as he does now.

"It's been probably seven, eight years," he said, shaking his head.

And the result? "I wish I could explain it to you, but all of a sudden I've got this pop, some speed in my swing," he said.

Woods, 42, is back as a competitor at August National for the first time since 2015 in a tournament he hasn't won since 2005. And yet his mere presence has sent a charge through not only golf fans around the world, but his fellow players.

"A lot of these kids' first memories are my last victory here (in 2005)," Woods said of his much younger competitors.

His practice-round partner from Monday acknowledged as much.

"Tiger has always been my favorite growing up," world No. 2 Justin Thomas said earlier Tuesday. "I was, I mean, I guess you could say getting serious into golf, 8, 9 years old, 10 years old, when he was in his heyday, when he was winning about every other tournament he played in. So, I mean, any kid, that's pretty fun to watch. You want to be like him. "

Woods has four green jackets but has been stuck on 14 major victories since the 2008 U.S. Open.

But he enters 2018 with four wins at Augusta National (1997, 2001, '02 and '05), two runner-up finishes and one third-place finish among 13 top-10s. Icons Jack Nicklaus (six) and Arnold Palmer (four) are the only other players with four or more wins at the Masters.

Throngs of fans have followed his every move this week, first through a nine-hole practice round Monday with Thomas and Fred Couples ("He'll be a factor this week," Couples said afterward).

Woods seeks his 80th PGA Tour victory, but his first since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational because of back problems that have required four surgeries.

Still, it might be too much to expect him to challenge for the victory this week, but he's not willing to pinpoint a favorite.

MORE: Masters 2018: Updated odds to win at Augusta National

"I don't think there's one clear-cut favorite. I think there are so many guys playing so well at one time. There's no one guy," Woods said. "That's what's exciting about this year."

That and Tiger is back.