Golf: 'I'm playing in the Masters' - Tiger Woods

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Tiger Woods will play the Masters, making his return to tournament golf at the first major championship of the year next week.

"I'm playing the Masters," Woods said Friday in a statement posted on his website.

The announcement followed weeks of speculation as to whether Woods would feel his game was up to Augusta National.

He hasn't played in a tournament since withdrawing at Torrey Pines on Feb 5 with back pain.

That followed a dismal showing at the Phoenix Open, and the 14-time major champion announced the following week that he was taking an indefinite break until he could improve his game to a competitive level.

Woods said all along that he hoped to play the Masters, and anticipation that he would indeed tee it up next Thursday intensified when he practiced at the famed course this week.

"It's obviously very important to me and I want to be there," Woods said of a tournament he has won four times.

"I've worked a lot on my game and I'm looking forward to competing," Woods said.

"I'm excited to get to Augusta and I appreciate everyone's support."

The 39-year-old American, who claimed the last of his 14 major titles at the 2008 US Open, will be coming off his longest layup before a major since the 2010 Masters.

He finished equal fourth that year after five months off in the wake of his infamous sex scandal.

Woods, chasing the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, has fallen to 104th in the world rankings, falling outside the top 100 for the first time since before his first PGA triumph at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational.

Woods last won the Masters 10 yers ago - eight years after his electrifying, record-setting first major crown in 1997.

Next week, he'll be playing his first major since turning 39 in December. No player has won more than three major titles beyond his 39th birthday.

Since the start of last year, Woods has played in only 10 events and completed 72 holes only three times, one of those last December at his Hero World Challenge charity event where there was no cut.

Woods has played only 47 holes this year, his woeful record including a career-worst 82 in the second round at Phoenix and his once-mighty short game suddenly a glaring weakness.

With Augusta National's trademark undulating greens a formidable hurdle for those with poor approaches, Woods will need that short game to be sharp if he's to have a real chance to contend.

But Woods knows Augusta National well, having finished no worse than fourth in seven of his past nine Masters starts.

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