Steve Stricker believes Tiger Woods' latest comeback is "for real" and believes the former world number one could end his 10-year major championship drought in next week's Masters.

Woods competed just 24 times in four years as he struggled with back injuries and off-course issues, but has played five events in 2018 and recorded consecutive top-five finishes.

The 42-year-old underwent spinal fusion surgery in April 2017, his fourth back operation in the space of three years, and says he is pain free for the first time in years.

Stricker, who needs to win the Shell Houston Open to join Woods in the field at Augusta National, told a pre-tournament press conference: "As far as Tiger goes, I played a nine-hole practice round with him at Valspar.

This is for real this time, I think, this comeback.

"He's looking good, he feels good, he's talking good about his game and himself and how he feels. So it's exciting to see, it really is. He's walking with a bounce in his step like he did when he was out here kicking everybody's butt.

"So it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he wins again this year. It could be next time at Augusta, who knows? He likes that spot.

"It's fun to watch. You know, it's brought a lot more attention to our game again when he's in there playing, especially playing well."

Stricker finished 12th in the Valspar Championship, where Woods was runner-up to Paul Casey, but has also been competing on the Champions Tour and won his second straight event in Mississippi last week.

"I'm excited the way I'm playing out there and I would like to carry that over to this Tour, too," the 51-year-old added. "I played all four of the majors last year and I'm not in any of them this year, so I've got some work cut out if I want to play in some of those.

"It's a long shot to come here and win, but hopefully I'll play well and see what happens."

Stricker is one of several big names all hoping to secure the last available place in the Masters, with Ian Poulter, Brandt Snedeker, Shane Lowry, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood also competing at the Golf Club of Houston.

Westwood has not missed the Masters since 2004 and was second to Danny Willett as recently as 2016, but has slipped to 90th in the world and shot 78 in his last competitive round in the World Super 6 in February.

Poulter agonisingly missed out on a place at Augusta via the world rankings, his quarter-final defeat in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play leaving him 0.03 points adrift of the top 50.