Tiger says he'll play in Masters

Updated: March 17, 2010, 11:40 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Tiger Woods will make his highly anticipated return to competitive golf at the Masters, ending a four-month hiatus brought on by a sex scandal.

The world's No. 1-ranked player, who has never missed the year's first major as a professional, announced in a statement Tuesday that Augusta National Golf Club will be the site of his comeback.

"The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta," Woods said in a statement.

"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's been a while since I last played."

The Masters is scheduled for April 8-11. Since World War II, only one player has made his first official event of the year the Masters and gone on to win -- Ben Hogan in 1951 and 1953.

Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National and the tournament, said: "We support Tiger's decision to return to competitive golf beginning at this year's Masters Tournament. Additionally, we support and encourage his stated commitment to continue the significant work required to rebuild his personal and professional life."

Woods is a four-time Masters champion, although he has not won at Augusta National since 2005, his longest drought there.

"We were pleased to learn that Tiger Woods will be playing the Masters in a few weeks," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. "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 the best as he rejoins the Tour."

"We look forward to Tiger's return to the Masters and seeing him back on the course," Nike, Woods' longtime sponsor, said in a statement.

The Masters had been seen as a strong possibility for Woods' comeback, due to the relative scarcity of tickets and Augusta National's tight control of the event, which extends to media coverage.

Woods 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's been a while since I last played.

-- Tiger Woods

The Richmond County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office, which assists the private firm hired to provide security for the Masters, has not been asked for changes to the security plan and is not expecting any major problems, the Augusta Chronicle reported.

"We have that place sealed up tight," Richmond County Col. Gary Powell said, according to the report.

Woods last played Nov. 15, when he won the Australian Masters in Melbourne for his 82nd career victory. His world unraveled less than two weeks later -- he was involved in a one-car crash outside his Florida home that required a hospital visit and led to a series of revelations about his personal life that included a subsequent admission of multiple affairs.

"I have undergone almost two months of in-patient therapy and I am continuing my treatment," Woods said in his statement. "Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life."

Woods eventually confessed to infidelity and said Dec. 11 he would take an "indefinite break" from golf. Woods spoke publicly for the first time Feb. 19 at TPC Sawgrass, where he confessed to cheating on his wife, Elin.

"I have made you question who I am and how I could have done the things I did," Woods said that day.

He was in a Mississippi clinic from Dec. 31 until Feb. 11, then went to an Arizona clinic for a week of family counseling. He returned to practice when he got home to Isleworth, and swing coach Hank Haney joined him last week.

By choosing the Masters, Woods will skip next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he has won the past two years and six times overall. He is also skipping next week's Tavistock Cup, an exhibition played at Isleworth.

This will be the first time Woods has missed Bay Hill, the only regular PGA Tour event he always has played as a professional.

"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. "I called both Joe Lewis and Arnold Palmer and expressed my regrets for not attending the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I again want to thank them both for their support and their understanding. Those are fantastic tournaments and I look forward to competing in them again.

"I would also like to thank the Augusta National members and staff for their support. I have deep appreciation for everything that they do to create a wonderful event for the benefit of the game."

Palmer said Woods sounded good in their conversation.

"He had some zip in his voice," Palmer told the Golf Channel. "He sounded just fine. He knows what he wants to do with his life and the way he's going to handle it, and I guess we're going to give him that respect. I would think for Tiger it's going to be tough. It's going to be something that's going to take him a little time to get used to.

"He expressed his regret for not being able to play. He said that he was sorry, that he really didn't feel his game was up to speed to start playing this early. "

Rocco Mediate, who engaged Woods in an epic playoff battle in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, thought Woods would return at Bay Hill.

"It's easy, it's close. But he may not be ready," Mediate said. "I don't know. I haven't talked to him. I'm not really surprised. It's the safest place. It's the most controlled place.''

Mediate also said that he expects Woods to be at the top of his game.

"He's won four [Masters titles]," Mediate said. "That's probably his favorite golf course, I would think. There is some room for error off the tee. Not much anymore. But there's some. And for the distance that man hits it ..."

Woods last played on the PGA Tour in the Tour Championship on Sept. 28, where he finished second. His layoff between the Australian Masters and U.S. Masters will be 144 days -- the second-longest of his career. He missed 256 days recovering from knee surgery in 2009.

"We want the best player in the world out playing golf again," longtime rival Jim Furyk said. "He's got to do what's best for him. I realize looking at the big picture it's good for everyone. What's good for the best player in the world is probably good for the big picture and the PGA Tour."

Already the major with the highest TV ratings, this Masters could be the biggest yet. The first two rounds are televised on ESPN, with CBS Sports showing the final two.

"Obviously, the ratings will be off the chart," PGA Tour player Heath Slocum said. "It will be interesting to watch -- not only the reaction from him, but from the fans, the media, the players. I would venture to say he might be nervous."

The governing body of golf outside the United States said it hoped Woods would play at The Open Championship in July.

"We're pleased to hear that Tiger is to return to golf. ... Golf needs the world No. 1 to be playing," Royal & Ancient spokesman Malcolm Booth said.

Woods has not yet entered to play at the British Open at St. Andrews, but has until May 27 to send in his entry form. Booth says it's "normal that he hasn't" entered yet.

Woods has won titles at three of the four major championship venues this year -- Augusta National, Pebble Beach (site of the U.S. Open in June) and St. Andrews. The PGA Championship is at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, where Woods tied for 24th six years ago when the event was first held there.

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com