Tiger on comeback trail

Tiger Woods teeing off at the Quicken Loans National last August, the month he last played competitive golf. But he could feature in June's US Open.
Tiger Woods teeing off at the Quicken Loans National last August, the month he last played competitive golf. But he could feature in June's US Open.PHOTO: REUTERS

Woods plays first holes in 8 months, fuelling speculation of a return to action

LOS ANGELES • Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods has registered to play in the US Open in June, the US Golf Association confirmed on Monday. But he has insisted he has not set a definite return date to the PGA Tour.

Woods had until today's deadline to register for the tournament, which takes place at Oakmont Country Club this year, but completed his registration three weeks ago.

Woods' agent Mark Steinberg told ESPN that the 14-time Major winner's registration for the tournament was "simply procedural".

"No reason to read anything into this," Steinberg was quoted as saying.

Earlier this month, Woods ruled himself out of the Masters at Augusta, saying that while he had begun hitting balls again, he would not be fully fit for the tournament.

"I've said all along that this time I need to be cautious and do what's best for my long-term health and career," he said. "I'm absolutely making progress, and I'm really happy with how far I've come, but I still have no timetable to return to competitive golf."

PROGRESSING ALONG FINE

I still have a long way to go. But I'm on the back side. I'm getting better, but I'm also getting closer to feeling better every day.

TIGER WOODS , the former world No.1 golfer, on the progress he is making from back surgeries.

On Monday, he played his first stretch of golf holes since last August at a course opening in Montgomery, Texas to fuel speculations that he could return soon.

Woods was present for the opening of Bluejack National Golf Course, which he helped design.

The 40-year-old warmed up in front of a crowd, hit a ceremonial tee shot and then played a few holes with long-time friend and fellow Major champion Mark O'Meara.

"I haven't been out here playing like this. I hadn't played any holes until today," Woods told reporters.

"I know people have said I've played holes back at Medalist, but I haven't. This is actually the first time I've played holes since Wyndham. It's been a while."

He last competed at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina last August before back surgeries ended his year.

His world ranking has plummeted to 499 and earlier this month he missed the Masters for only the second time since his tournament debut in 1995.

Multiple videos of the American hitting golf balls have surfaced this year and Monday's short round showed further improvement.

"I'm just progressing," he said.

"You saw how I was going at it today, nice and smooth. That's harder than I have been going at it the last month. Just gradually progressing. We're just trying to progress and I'm doing that.

"It's been a long road. To actually be able to play soccer with my kids again, to do something like this, to be able to live life... that's what's been nice. Five months ago I couldn't. To be three months out of surgery and feel like that, it was tough. I still have a long way to go. But I'm on the back side. I'm getting better, but I'm also getting closer to feeling better every day."

The Golf Channel reported that Woods could compete at the Wells Fargo Championship early next month but Woods and his team have maintained there is no planned return date.

"I haven't set any date to when I'm playing again, which is frustrating to say. But to be honest with you, that's what I've had to do. I've had to go with that mindset," he said. "Would I have said that five months ago? No way. I couldn't imagine then feeling like I do right now. Keep improving. Keep getting better. Keep making progress. And I'm doing that."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'Tiger on comeback trail'. Print Edition | Subscribe