Golf

Tiger Woods set to return at Safeway Open in Napa

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USATSI

Tiger Woods set to return at Safeway Open in Napa

Two weeks after the PGA Tour season ended, the next one starts Thursday and for some fans it can't get here soon enough: Tiger Woods is returning to golf.

Woods made it official Friday by entering the Safeway Open in Napa, California, the first event on the PGA Tour's wraparound schedule. He has said a month ago that he hoped to play the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort, but had until Friday afternoon to officially commit.

Woods last played on Aug. 23, 2015, at the Wyndham Championship in a last-minute bid to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. A month later, he announced a second surgery on his back, and then a third one a month after that.

Even through other operations on his knee, the 40-year-old Woods has never spent this long away from competition. And never has the No. 767 player in the world attracted so much attention.

"Silverado is the perfect course for him because it is so straightforward," tournament host Johnny Miller said last month when Woods indicated he hoped to play. "I think he'll love being back in California. If he can get a good first round ... just get some confidence and springboard from there."

Woods plans to play the Turkish Airlines Open next month and then his Hero World Challenge the first week in December, giving him three tournaments in roughly three months to end the year.

The Safeway Open, in its first year as title sponsor, has a little extra star power next week. Phil Mickelson already has announced he will play, and PGA Tour officials are considering putting them in the same group for the opening round.

"I'm sort of glad I'm not there that week. ... It's going to be a bit of a circus," Rory McIlroy said last month. "But it's good to see him back and healthy, and it will be exciting to see him back on the course again."

Wood sounded defeated last December in the Bahamas because he had no timetable for a return and no idea how long it would take his back to heal. He said at one point, "For my 20 years out here, I think I've achieved a lot, and if that's all it entails, then I've had a pretty good run. But I'm hoping that's not it."

He played five holes with Mark O'Meara when Woods opened his golf course outside Houston. He also had one awkward moment at Congressional during a promotion for the Quicken Loans National. He was asked to hit a shot over the water to the par-3 10th hole, and put all three of them in the water.

Woods said last month his rehabilitation was to the point where he was comfortable making scheduling plans.

He was at the Ryder Cup as an assistant captain, mostly walking as he spent time with Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. Woods this week was named an assistant to Presidents Cup Captain Steve Stricker, though Stricker said he would like to see Woods playing on the team.

Woods hasn't won since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational, the 79th title of his PGA Tour career. That left him three short of the record held by Sam Snead.

Tiger enters The Masters exactly how you want him to -- the big-name underdog

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AP

Tiger enters The Masters exactly how you want him to -- the big-name underdog

There is something vaguely unsettling about Tiger Woods and The Masters this week, and it isn’t Tiger Woods or The Masters.

What it is, is the loud and persistent desperation of the golf-viewing nation that Woods BE the reason for The Masters this week. He is back playing after years of psychic and (mostly) physical issues, and his place on the odds board (12-1, behind four other golfers at 10-1) seems like the right place for him.

Except that that number will be bet down frantically this week as more and more people who want to turn back the clock 15 years throw their disposable income at what used to be. That is very much part of the Tiger Effect here – a look back at what used to be and what can probably never be again.

But in doing so, those people, most of whom are the same people who claimed that Tiger Woods changed golf, are showing that golf wasn’t changed as much as a “Tiger fixation” was created. The much-needed revolution he was supposed to have sparked in the sport was actually an army of eyeballs that watched him with a laserlike focus but then stopped watching until he came back. Indeed, the promised change in how golf looked came not on the men’s side but in the LPGA, where the leaderboard is more routinely global.

There have been great golfers in this decade – Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McElroy – but none have resonated in the same way, which is understandable given how difficult an act Woods was to follow. What we have discovered, though, is that Woods wasn’t actually a golf phenomenon but a singular phenomenon, a one-man revolution who will take the revolution with him when he retires for good.

And that’s not about him, that’s about the audience. The audience didn’t necessarily want what he was selling, they wanted him selling it, and they want him selling it now. And they will be the same people who will dismiss the sport once he re-retires because they wanted it to be about him and only him all along.

True, this is a generalization, and not all people feel this way. But no other 42-year-old who has been unhealthy for most of the past decade would be a 12-1 bet to win The Masters, or even on anyone’s mind. Tiger Woods is his own entity, and he comes bearing both the bully’s resume and the underdog’s narrative. He gives us both of the things we find most compelling in sports – the vision of the indomitable giant and the heroic underdog, all in one body.

So, Tiger Woods isn’t about Tiger Woods at all, but about the American sports fan’s twin psychoses – the big-name underdog. You know, sort of like Sister Jean sitting on the New England Patriots’ sideline.

See why it’s unsettling? That image alone just made my soul leak through my shoes.

Tiger Woods' return ends with best finish in four years

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USATSI

Tiger Woods' return ends with best finish in four years

NASSAU, Bahamas — Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods both had cause for celebrations large and small at the Hero World Challenge.

Fowler rallied from a seven-shot deficit by opening with seven straight birdies at Albany Golf Club and closing with an 11-under 61 Sunday for his second victory worldwide. It was the second time in his eight years on tour that he won multiple times around the world.

Woods had his best finish in four years.

Playing for the first time in 10 months while recovering from a fourth back surgery, Woods closed with a 68 despite a bogey-bogey finish. Even so, his back felt good and he was swinging at full strength. He tied for ninth in the 18-man field, his best result since a playoff loss at this holiday event in 2013.