March 08, 2018

Woods Has First Appearance at Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Coming off an impressive 12th-place showing at the Honda Classic, Tiger Woods returns to competition on Thursday in the $6.5 million Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort.

It marks his first appearance in the tournament and fourth PGA Tour start of the year. He tied for 23rd in the Farmers Insurance Open and missed the cut at the Genesis Open.

Woods hadn’t played the challenging 7,340-yard par-71 Copperhead Course, one of four at the Tampa area resort, until this week. His only previous visit to Innisbrook was during his rookie season in 1996, when he played in the co-ed JC Penney Classic with Kelli Kuehne.

On Tuesday, Woods played nine holes with Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk and fellow vice-captains Davis Love III and Steve Stricker. On Wednesday, Woods participated in the pro-am.

The Valspar Championship will be Woods’ 41st debut on the PGA Tour. He’s won nine times, recorded 26 top 10s and 33 top 25s.

Woods will look to continue the positive momentum gained from his performance at the Honda Classic two weeks ago, where he led the field in proximity to the hole and ranked second in driving distance (319.1).

For the first time since 2015, Woods played in consecutive events and finished pain-free.

“After playing Honda and really feeling good about it, I wanted to push myself in my practice sessions, which I did, pushed myself in the gym a little bit, and I can handle two weeks in a row now,” he said. “So that’s one of the reasons why I’m here.”

Woods is trying to sharpen distance control and trajectory with his irons, which comes with competitive rounds. He’s only played 10 this year.

“I think I’ve come around quickly,” said Woods. “I looked up some of my stats last night, wanted to see how I ranked. I am not even on the rankings. I haven’t played enough rounds.”

Woods has also committed to next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, possibly his final tune-up before the Masters next month. He intends to go to Augusta National early to practice.

Like many golf fans, Woods watched Phil Mickelson win the WGC-Mexico Championship on Sunday, and applauded his sudden-death victory against Justin Thomas.

“I thought it was a great,” Woods said. “Very, very cool.”

It gave Woods and many others hope that wins are possible for the 40-and-over crowd.

“What Phil is doing is showing that anyone can still do it later in our careers,” he said. “I’m ecstatic to have a chance to play again and have a chance to win golf tournaments.”

Copperhead features tight, tree-lined fairways and small greens. There are four par-5s and five par-3s.

The last three holes are called the “Snake Pit’’ due to their difficulty and were ranked the fourth-toughest closing stretch on the PGA Tour in 2017. They consist of a 458-yard par-4, a 217-yard par-3 called “The Rattler” and a 443-yard par-4.

Woods is paired with Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson the first two rounds. They start Thursday at 12:46 p.m. ET on the first hole, then tee off Friday at 7:46 a.m. on No. 10.

Adam Hadwin is the defending champion and carded a winning score of 14-under 270 last year. The winner receives $1.17 million.

The Golf Channel will televise the first two rounds from 2-6 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, coverage runs from 1-3 p.m. (Golf Channel) and 3-6 p.m. on NBC.

The weather forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 54 degrees on Thursday; sunshine and 56-degree temperatures Friday; partly cloudy and 67-degrees Saturday; and thunderstorms and 71-degrees with a 90 percent chance of rain Sunday.