Tiger's return to Sawgrass a Major vote of confidence
Published 25/04/2015 | 02:30
Tiger Woods has charted a confident course to June's US Open at Chambers Bay, as he bids this summer to end his seven-year drought at the Majors.
The decision of Woods to tee it up at The Players on Pete Dye's renowned Stadium Course at Sawgrass on Thursday week suggests that Tiger's faith has been fully restored in his golf game.
Woods then will play The Memorial at Muirfield Village, Jack Nicklaus revealed this week. This will be Tiger's only other outing before the US Open, which takes place a fortnight after Memorial from June 18 to 21.
Speculation that he might make a last-minute decision to travel to Royal Co Down for the Irish Open, hosted for the first time next month by good friend and Nike stablemate Rory McIlroy, can be firmly discounted.
Tiger tied 17th with Sergio Garcia at Augusta National, 13 shots behind runaway winner Jordan Spieth, a modest finish by his career standards at The Masters. However, his performance there was a major fillip for Woods on his return from a 60-day hiatus after an abject start to 2015.
Woods gave a hugely impressive display of course management to win The Players for a second time in 2013, his most recent appearance at the event. However, Sawgrass will offer arguably the most comprehensive all-round test of his game as it goes through a transition period.
David Duval, Players champion in 1999, neatly summed it up on Twitter: "Great news for fans of Tiger and golf. His participation at Players implies lots of confidence and comfort with his game. The Stadium probably is the most demanding course technically and mentally that's played all year. You're required to move the ball both ways and shape shots into the greens. You must be mentally sharp standing on the first tee."
Returning to Muirfield Village, where he won for the fifth time in 2012, also makes perfect sense for Tiger.
Just two tournaments between Augusta and the US Open would be considered an ultra-light schedule for many but not Woods. Indeed, he actually notched his third win in his own national championship in 2008 at Torrey Pines after a two-month injury lay-off following the Masters.
Mind you, he was an entirely different species back then, winning the Dubai Desert Classic, Buick Invitational at Torrey, Accenture Match Play and Arnold Palmer Invitational in the run-up to a share of second at Augusta in 2008.
This year, Woods followed up his worst round as a professional, the 82 on Friday that caused him to miss the cut in Phoenix, by withdrawing with back spasms after just 11 holes of The Farmers Open at Torrey Pines.
Of far more concern than his creaking lower back was a crisis in Tiger's short game, though assertions that he was assailed by the "chip-yips" were countered by a convincing display with his wedges at Augusta.
Tiger certainly will have the time to fly to Washington's Pacific Ocean shore to play Chambers Bay, which hosts a Major for the first time. For the record, Woods has won two of his three US Open titles on the West Coast, at Pebble Beach in 2000 and, of course, in San Diego eight years later.
Ruaidhri McGee, 24, has been on a vegetarian diet since January but the sublimely talented Rosapenna golfer feasted on birdies as he powered into a share of the 54-hole lead with home town favourite Nacho Elvira in the Challenge de Madrid.
McGee brought his haul this week to 18 birdies during the flawless third-round 68 which placed him alongside Elvira, 28, on 16-under entering today's final round at El Encin Golf Hotel.
A maiden Challenge Tour victory would be a massive breakthrough for the laid-back Ulsterman as he plays under a medical exemption.
Simon Thornton (T20, -8, 67), Peter Lawrie (T29, -7, 71) and Gareth Maybin (T53, -4, 70), continue their battle for redemption today after losing their European Tour cards last year.
Damien McGrane (75, +3) and Michael Hoey (75, +7) both failed to make the weekend at the Volvo China Open.
Julien Quesne, on eight-under after a second round 67 at Shanghai Pudong, led by one from French compatriot Alexander Levy (68) and American Peter Uihlein (67). Levy won this title last year at Shenzen.
In the US, Florida's Hudson Swafford, 27, was one clear in the clubhouse when the weather halted yesterday's second round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans after a flawless 66. Swafford didn't drop a shot in 36 holes which featured one eagle and nine birdies.
Remarkably, when Freddie Jacobson opened with a three-putt bogey from 33 feet yesterday, it was his first three-stab in a PGA Tour record 542 holes, that's 30 rounds in three months.
Dubliner Niall Kearney went into the weekend at the Asian Tour's Indonesian Masters tied 40th on five-over after a 76 at Royal Jakarta, where Aussie Unho Park led by one on four-under following his second round of 73.
Volvo China Open, Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.00am
Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.00pm