Woods adds Valspar tourney near Tampa to his road to Masters
By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Tiger Woods is adding another tournament to his schedule on his road to the Masters.
Woods decided Friday to play in the Valspar Championship next week at Innisbrook, along with the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill the following week. It was another strong signal about the health of his surgically fused lower back, giving him four tournaments in five weeks.
Woods tweeted that he committed to play both tournaments after a “good recovery week.”
He has never played the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, though Woods has played Innisbrook. Three months after he turned pro in 1996, Woods paired with Kelli Kuehne in the now-defunct JC Penney Mixed-Team Classic. They finished third.
Innisbrook became part of the PGA Tour schedule in 2000. The Copperhead course is regarded by some players as one of the best tournament layouts in Florida because of the hilly terrain, tree-lined fairways and water that comes into play only on seven of the 18 holes. It is the only PGA Tour stop in Florida that does not feature water on the 18th hole.
From the time Woods returned — first at his unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last December and then when he resumed a PGA Tour schedule — he has said he was trying to ready his game for Augusta National.
Woods has missed the Masters three of the last four years because of four back operations, the most recent a fusion surgery last April. His latest return as been promising with a tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines (seven shots behind) and 12th place at the Honda Classic (eight shots behind). He missed the cut at Riviera, where he never won even at his best.
“I need to keep playing tournaments,” Woods said after the Honda Classic. “But I need to keep building on it, keep building my body, keep building toward April. That was the goal when I first came back — try and get everything situated for April. And I feel like I’m right on track for that.”
Woods is an eight-time winner at Bay Hill, where he has not played since he won in 2013.
The Valspar Championship often gets overlooked in the Florida swing because it competes for players against the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational, and previously a World Golf Championship at Doral.
Now it has its most appealing collection of players. Along with Woods, players who also have entered include Rory McIlroy for the first time, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.