LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tiger Woods is awfully happy he could announce his own name in the field of the Chevron World Challenge.
Woods expressed gratitude to the tournament committee Tuesday after squeaking into the event he hosts. His world ranking barely stayed in the top 50 last month, just high enough to qualify for an exemption, and he’ll be at Sherwood Country Club in seven weeks for the final event of his so-far winless season.
After a brutal two-year stretch of personal turmoil and reinvention, Woods appears eager to continue his climb back from his latest low. Woods has dropped from No. 49 to 52 since clinching a spot the Chevron field, and he finished tied for 30th last week in Northern California in the Frys.com Open, his first tournament in nearly two months.
“I had (rankings) points rolling off from ’09,” Woods said at a news conference in Hollywood. “I had a very good year that year. I won, what, seven times around the world, so all those points are coming off. Unfortunately, I fell quite a bit, and I fell fast. Good news is, by playing next year, I have no points coming off, so I can start rebuilding.”
Rebuilding is the theme of Woods’ life these days as he moves forward from injuries to his left knee and Achilles tendon, along with the disintegration of his marriage and public image. He plans to play a full schedule in 2012, but he’ll play in the Australian Open and the Presidents Cup in the next few weeks before returning to his native California for the Chevron tournament.
“I’m really looking forward to going down to Australia and playing because now I have that feeling of playing again, not just hitting ball after ball after ball on the range,” Woods said.
Woods will join an American-heavy Chevron field of 18 in Thousand Oaks, including Steve Stricker, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney and PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley. FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas also received an exemption.
Woods has won the tournament four times, but lost in a playoff last year after Graeme McDowell rallied from four strokes back in the final round. Although he blew a late lead, Woods remains proud of his performance while he was still rebuilding his swing with coach Sean Foley.
“I had one golf shot only, and that was it,” Woods said. “That was going to be a draw. I couldn’t hit a fade. What we were working on at the time limited me to only hitting one golf shot. I’m like, ‘OK, well, how am I supposed to play this week? I’m going to have to rely on my putter.’ So I hit the ball well.”
The tournament probably could have put Woods in its field this year even if his ranking hadn’t stayed high enough for an exemption under the current rules, but such a move might have prevented the tournament from awarding ranking points.
While Woods’ return to golf dominance still is far from certain, he remains the sport’s biggest icon. Several hundred fans showed up Tuesday to watch Woods put on a good-natured putting exhibition in the middle of the Hollywood and Highland retail complex built around the Kodak Theatre, the home of the Academy Awards.
After several fans competed for the chance to walk inside the ropes with Woods during the first round at Sherwood, he competed against the winner on a large artificial putting green. The crowd included at least two Tiger impersonators – no surprise in the mall next-door to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and its motley collection of celebrity lookalikes.
Woods interacted with fans and engaged in a little trash-talk with the putting competitors, appearing at ease after a fan threw a hot dog in Woods’ direction last Sunday in San Martin.
As the world’s most popular golfer, Woods is aware of the risks he takes every weekend.
“Part of the lure of our sport is our access,” Woods said. “Fans can literally reach out and touch you. You don’t ever touch football players unless they jump in the stands. That personal interaction is what makes golf so special. We’ve been very fortunate over the years to have everything turn out positively.
“This guy was just trying to gain attention for himself, which he did. I’ve had another fan throw an orange in Phoenix one year. Unfortunately, people have a few of their libations of choice, and do things that they probably don’t normally do.”