Tiger Woods will stage his latest comeback where it all began.
And where it nearly ended.
Woods’ 11-word statement came on Friday via Twitter: “I’m ready to play an ACTUAL PGA Tour event next week,” he wrote.
Capitalizing the ACTUAL seemed to be a reference to the PNC Championship, the two-day team event Woods has played the last two years with his son Charlie, plus the Match, which Woods played the week before. He had also planned to play the Hero World Challenge in December but withdrew the week of, citing plantar fasciitis.
We haven’t seen Woods play stroke-play golf since last year’s Open Championship. We haven’t seen him play four rounds of stroke-play golf since last year’s Masters. We don’t know how he’ll look, how he’ll walk, how he’ll play. But Tiger Woods is coming back just as the golf season is hitting its stride. For now, that’s enough.
You want a party? You’ve already got one. After all, Woods’ announcement came in the midst of play on Friday at the WM Phoenix Open, the third-biggest rager of the PGA Tour season. (First on that list is Saturday at the WM Phoenix Open, with Super Bowl Sunday at the WM Phoenix Open coming in a close second.) The stakes of this year’s event have only been enhanced by the debut of its elevated status; it now boasts one of the strongest fields in recent PGA Tour history and a $20 million purse to go with it. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, as one prominent example, has never played a WM Phoenix Open with a full crowd. They’re happy to have him.
You want drama? The highly anticipated Netflix docuseries covering the PGA Tour will debut on Sunday after the Super Bowl, providing a look behind the curtain that the Tour hopes will introduce golf to new fans and provide a jolt of interest in its product. This week’s a jolt on its own, particularly given that Super Bowl is happening just down the street, only juicing the star power in town. If professional golf is serving as the unofficial pregame show to America’s biggest sporting event, the sport will certainly take it.
You want a rivalry? Woods’ comeback announcement came on LIV commissioner Greg Norman’s birthday. On his birthday! Woods has already made his loyalty to the PGA Tour readily known, but having him sign on to compete in an actual tournament field means something more. That’s doubly true given LIV’s first event of the season comes at Mayakoba, just a week after the Genesis.
One reason LIV seemed to win the news cycle over the past 12 months is because it was news every time the fledgling league gained a player, where the PGA Tour retaining players wasn’t news; that just maintained the status quo. But this week it feels like the Tour is gaining Woods, at least for one tournament. It’s been a while, too: the last time Woods played in a non-major on the PGA Tour was in October 2020, at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood in California.
You want an elite tournament? You’ve already got a great one in progress. Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler and Jason Day and Xander Schauffele and PGA Tour stars old and new are tangling at TPC Scottsdale. Next week’s field will be just as strong; the same group of top guys will be there plus the few that missed this week, like Will Zalatoris and Adam Scott. Woods will join them in competition at Riviera Country Club, arguably the most beloved course on Tour.
You want symbolism? Woods was born and raised in Southern California. This is his home event. It’s the place he made his PGA Tour debut in 1992 as a 16-year-old high school sophomore. It’s become his foundation’s event, where he serves as host and hands out the trophy. The last time Woods played on Tour in front of a full group of fans was the 2020 Genesis Invitational. He entered that week at World No. 8. A year later Woods returned, not healthy enough to play but there to serve as tournament host. His week had a nightmarish ending; he got in a horrific car crash the Monday morning after the event and nearly lost his leg, never mind his golf season.
In other words, this tournament marked the beginning of Woods’ PGA Tour career and very nearly marked the ending, too.
What better place to stage his latest comeback?