Top-ranked Woods has announced on his website he will make his comeback at the year’s first major championship, at the famed Augusta National Golf Club, which begins on April 8.
Woods has won four times at Augusta, including his first major title in 1997, the first major crown ever taken by a black golfer.
“After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta,” Woods said on his website.
“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect.”
Woods has not played in a tournament since winning the Australian Masters on November 15, the 82nd triumph of an amazing pro career that has seen him win 14 major titles, four shy of matching the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.
String of affairs revealed
Just 12 days after his Australian victory, a car crash near Woods’s home touched off a global scandal, leading to his admission of serial adultery and putting his golf career on hold while he fought his own personal demons.
“I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment,” Woods said. “Although I’m returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life.”
Woods might be making progress on that front as well. A photograph on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Post shows Woods and wife, former model, Elin walking at their home, the first photo of them together since the scandal began. The couple has two young children.
His return announcement brought joy to PGA officials and telecasters, who have seen ratings plunge without Woods but now figure to have even greater numbers watching his every move over the next few months.
“We were pleased to learn that Tiger Woods will be playing the Masters in a few weeks,” US PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said.
“He has invested a lot of time taking steps, both in his personal and professional life, in order to prepare for his return. We all wish him and his family all the best as he rejoins the tour.”
Key sponsorship losses
“We support Tiger’s decision to return to competitive golf beginning at this year’s Masters,” Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne said.
“Additionally, we support and encourage his stated commitment to continue the significant work required to rebuild his personal and professional life.”
In addition to more than a dozen women claiming sexual encounters, some of them long-term affairs, Woods has faced the loss of many of the sponsors whose endorsement deals helped make him the first billion-dollar earner in sports.
Gatorade, Accenture and AT&T dropped Woods, although Nike stuck by the man they began endorsing when he turned professional in 1996 even as his situation turned Woods into a punch-line for comedians.
Woods apologised for his infidelity in an website posting last December, the 34-year-old American saying, “I regret those transgressions with all of my heart.”
In February 19, Woods made his first public appearance since the firestorm began, again apologising for his “selfish and irresponsible” behaviour.
Physical, emotional recovery
In recent weeks, Woods was seen with coach Hank Haney working on his game and by fellow PGA players in practice sessions as he worked to recover physically and emotionally from the turmoil that swirled around him.
Woods decided against playing in a tune-up event to prepare himself for the challenges he will face on and off the Georgia course in three weeks time.
“The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it has been a while since I last played,” Woods said.
Other possible comeback events for Woods would have been the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Tavistock Cup two-day exhibition event, both next week at Orlando, Florida, near his home.
“When I finally got into a position to think about competitive golf again, it became apparent to me that the Masters would be the earliest I could play,” Woods said.
Woods would have been the defending champion at Palmer’s tournament, the only event he had not missed playing every year of his career.
Last year was Woods’ first victory after a career-long 256-day layoff due to knee surgery following his 2008 US Open triumph.