Tiger Woods will return to professional golf at the Masters on Thursday, April 8, he said Tuesday in a written statement. The world's No. 1 player had taken an "indefinite" leave from the game late last year after a Thanksgiving night car crash and subsequent revelations of serial adultery.
Woods, who has won the Masters four times, has been seen playing golf recently after months of therapy and was expected to return to the game soon. Woods said he thought the Masters was the best place for him to resume his career.
"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," Woods said. "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 that he still in treatment. He has declined to say what he's being treated for, but numerous reports said he is being treated for sex addiction. Woods' marital infidelities dominated the tabloid and mainstream media for months after his car accident, and he appeared on the cover of The New York Post a record 20 times in a row.
"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."
The Masters Tournament is the scene of some of Woods's greatest professional triumphs, including his historic 1997 win, in which he won his first major by 12 shots. In addition to his positive memories, the tournament's famous exclusivity could ease Woods's re-entry into the spotlight. The tournament organizers restrict what CBS announcers can say on air. For example, they must refer to fans as "patrons." Also, those fans are remarkably well-behaved at the tournament, and the Pinkerton security guards won't tolerate heckling. Another benefit for Woods is that no one except for players and caddies are allowed inside the ropes, unlike other tournaments where fans and media are allowed closer access.
The Masters is largely seen as the game's most prestigous event. Earlier reports had Woods returning this month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Tavistock Cup, both in Orlando. NBC announcer Johnny Miller said last week that Woods needed to play in a warm-up tournament like Bay Hill to have any serious chance of winning the Masters.
"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."
CBS Sports expects historic ratings for the tournament. CBS news and sports president Sean MacManus told Sports Illustrated this week that Woods' return to golf would be the biggest media event of the last 10 or 15 years other than President Obama's inauguration.
"It is hard to overestimate how much interest there will be. Tiger Woods is the most famous, most recognized, most accomplished athlete in the world, and his celebrity and prominence is even larger than it was," MacManus said. "When you look at the fact that he gave a very simple press statement with no questions and every broadcast and cable news network in America carried it with great interest, I think that is an indication that whatever he does has enormous interest. And whatever he does on the golf course for the first time since Thanksgiving will be of interest to almost every man and women in this country."
Woods has not played competitive golf since the Australian Masters in November. He won the PGA Player of the Year in 2009 after winning six times on Tour. However, Woods did not win a major, and Y.E. Yang upset Woods to win the PGA Championship in August. It was the first time Woods had lost a major after holding the 54-hole lead.