Woods set to return next week at Safeway Open in California

By Doug Ferguson - AP Golf Writer

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.

By Doug Ferguson

AP Golf Writer

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