Woods ramps up masters prep

Tiger to contest Valspar C'ship, Arnold Palmer Invitational before year's 1st Major next month

MIAMI • Tiger Woods has committed to playing consecutive weeks at the next two PGA Tour events in what will likely be his final tournaments ahead of the Masters.

The former world No. 1, who has played three official events since returning this year after spinal fusion surgery last April, said on Twitter on Friday that he will be at next week's Valspar Championship followed by the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The commitment to Valspar, held in Florida, is somewhat surprising given that Woods, 42, has never played in the event before.

He was, however, widely expected to be at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he claimed eight of his 79 Tour victories. It will be his first start in the event since 2013.

He had the best result of his comeback at last week's Honda Classic where he earned a share of 12th place. It marked his best PGA Tour result since a tie for 10th at the 2015 Wyndham Championship.

The American has missed the Masters the past two years due to back issues, but is expected to seek his fifth Green Jacket next month.

His return has been so encouraging that he is among the bookmakers' top eight favourites to win the year's first Major.

Golf Channel and NBC analyst David Duval believes the Valspar Championship will help Woods' preparations ahead of the April 5-8 event at Augusta National.

"It's a good place to work on all parts of your game," the former world No. 1 said.

"And you don't have to drive it a ton there. You've got to deal with swirling winds, elevation changes. So I think it would be a very good thing for him to go play Valspar."

Woods, ranked 389th in the world rankings, has said he needs more "tournament reps" to be ready for the Masters but eligibility issues limit the number of events he can play between now and April.

The 14-time Major champion is ineligible for the World Golf Championships (WGC) tournaments this week in Mexico or the Match Play later this month as they consist of the world's top 64 players.

At the WGC-Mexico Championship, India's Shubhankar Sharma upstaged the big names by eagling the par-four first hole en route to a two-shot halfway lead on Friday.

In his WGC debut, the 21-year-old added a five-under 66 to his opening-round 65 for an 11-under 131 total. The Spanish duo of Sergio Garcia (65) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (67) were in a share of second.

Sharma, who entered the week ranked first on the European Tour after early-season victories in South Africa and Malaysia, said: "I've definitely proven to myself I belong here and I can play with the big boys."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 04, 2018, with the headline 'Woods ramps up masters prep'. Print Edition | Subscribe