Feeling rusty but ready to play again, Tiger Woods said Friday he would return to competition next week at Congressional in the Quicken Loans National.
Woods last played on March 9 at Doral, where he dealt with pain in his lower back and closed with a 78 for his highest final-round score on the PGA Tour. He had back surgery March 31, forcing him to miss the Masters for the first time. He also missed the U.S. Open last week at Pinehurst No. 2.
The announcement on his Facebook page delivered a jolt of good news to golf. Woods has been the game’s biggest draw since he turned pro in 1996, and with limited information about his recovery, speculation was starting to build that he might not make it to any majors this year.
“After a lot of therapy, I have recovered well and will be supporting my foundation next week at the Quicken Loans National,” Woods said on Facebook. “I’ve just started to hit full shots, but it’s time to take the next step. I will be a bit rusty, but I want to play myself back into competitive shape. Excited for the challenge ahead.”
This is the first year for a new title sponsor at the PGA Tour event that donates its charity money to the Tiger Woods Foundation, and the tournament earlier this year secured an agreement to return to Congressional every other year through 2020.
Woods on Thursday announced that he signed a new endorsement deal with MusclePharm, which will display its logo on his golf bag.
“He has been the face of golf for the last 15, 20 years, and golf is a better sport and a better place with Tiger Woods in it,” two-time major champion Rory McIlroy said last week at the U.S. Open. “So hopefully, he has a speedy recovery and he gets back on the course soon, because any tournament where Tiger Woods is a factor, he creates a big buzz.”
This is the second-longest break Woods has taken from golf because of injury. He missed the second half of the 2008 season when he had reconstructive surgery on his left knee just a week after winning the U.S. Open for his 14th major.
Even though he spent the offseason working on his body, there were signs early that something might be wrong.
He missed the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines, where he was the defending champion and an eight-time winner at one of his favorite courses. He had his worst finish ever at Dubai when he tied for 41st. Then, he withdrew in the final round of the Honda Classic because of back spasms, and despite being in the penultimate group at Doral, he struggled badly with his back on the final day after taking a swing from an awkward stance outside a bunker.
Woods had microdiscectomy surgery a week before the Masters, and he has said in rare appearances that he did not know how long it would take to properly heal. His agent, Mark Steinberg at Excel Sports Management, said earlier this week that Woods was making enough progress to extend his swing.
Even so, playing the Quicken Loans National was thought to be too soon.
It couldn’t come soon enough for the tournament.
“We’re thrilled, obviously,” said Mike Antolini, the tournament director and vice president of championships for the Tiger Woods Foundation. “Anytime you get that call and Tiger is in your field, it’s really the best news you can get. The fact he’s a two-time champion and the tournament hosts, we’re very excited for the fans.”
He said he expected a spike in ticket sales with Friday’s announcement.
The strength of Quicken Loans National field has suffered in recent years as more Europeans moved into the top 20 in the world, and they headed across the Atlantic Ocean as the European Tour headed places like Ireland, France and Scotland leading up to the British Open.
Adam Scott, who has replaced Woods at No. 1 in the world while he has been out, is not planning to return to Congressional this year.
“To be honest, we were prepared regardless for a good event,” Antolini said. “Our ticket sales, we think they’re going to be increased on this news now.”
Three years ago, Woods withdrew after nine holes at The Players Championship because of an Achilles tendon injury and missed more than two months. He said then he had learned from past mistakes and would not try to return before he was in full health.
Assuming he is at full strength now, he likely will be at the British Open at Royal Liverpool and the PGA Championship at Valhalla, where he won majors the last time they were held on those courses. Woods been stuck on 14 majors since that ’08 U.S. Open victory.
Woods is at No. 207 in the FedEx Cup — having played only three events — and could have as many as five events to reach the top 125. He also is at No. 67 in the Ryder Cup standings. U.S. captain Tom Watson has said he would use a wild-card pick on Woods, though he had eased off that position in recent weeks when the status of Woods’ recovery was unknown.