CHAMPIONS
Woods Returns to Competitive Golf at Hero World Challenge December 5, 2016 By David Shefter, USGA

Tiger Woods last competed in the U.S. Open in 2015 at Chambers Bay. (USGA/Simon Bruty)

The 2016-17 PGA Tour season doesn’t resume until the first week of January in Hawaii, but there was some palpable buzz throughout the golf world this weekend. The Hero World Challenge, an 18-player competition which annually attracts many of the world’s top golfers, contested this year in the Bahamas at Albany Golf Club, was where a certain nine-time USGA champion decided to make his return to the game after a nearly 16-month hiatus. Tiger Woods, who last competed in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, made his much-anticipated debut after a long layoff recovering from back surgery. The three-time U.S. Open champion was originally scheduled to return for the Safeway Open in October, but withdrew before the event, saying his game wasn’t quite ready.

So Woods delayed his return until the first week of December at an event that benefits his foundation.

With the golf media documenting his every stroke, Woods showed glimpses of the golfer who has won 14 majors. After opening with a 1-over 73 on Thursday, a round that included a pair of double bogeys over the closing three holes, Woods rallied for a 7-under 65 on Friday. He followed with a 2-under 70, only to shoot a 76 on Sunday to finish 15th at 4-under 284, 14 strokes behind winner Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan.

Nevertheless, Woods, whose last major title came in his playoff victory over Rocco Mediate in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, was happy to foray back into the competitive arena.

“Big picture? It feels good,” said Woods, who will turn 41 on Dec. 30. “It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world. I missed it. I love it.”


Woods was one of six USGA champions in the field, although 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose withdrew after the first round due to a lingering back injury.

Reigning U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson and 1997 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar tied for third at 13-under 275. Johnson and Matsuyama shared the 36-hole lead at 132, with the former carding a pair 66s before shooting 72-71 on the weekend. Kuchar, the bronze medalist in the 2016 Rio Olympics, posted rounds of 67-67-71-70.

Three-time USGA champion Jordan Spieth and 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Brandt Snedeker tied for sixth at 277.

Spieth was one that was happy to see Woods competing again.

“Personally, I think it’s a fun buzz within the players that aren’t Tiger, because we all want that opportunity to go head to head with him,” said Spieth, the 2015 U.S. Open champion. “That’s why we got into this, not to play for second, but to have a chance to take down one of the top players to ever play the game.”

Card Me

Sunday also was a big day for those seeking full-time employment on the LPGA Tour in 2017. The final round of LPGA Tour Qualifying School was completed at LPGA International Golf Club in Daytona Beach, Fla., with the top 20 finishers receiving Category 12 status for the 2017 season. Those finishing 21st to a tie for 45th earned Category 17 status, with the remaining golfers gaining status on the developmental Symetra Tour.

The LPGA Tour has 20 status categories from which it uses to fill out tournament fields, with Category 1 having top priority and Category 20 the lowest priority.

A handful of USGA champions were in the 157-player field, with 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Amy Anderson finishing in the top 20 to earn Category 12 status. The North Dakota native and member of the 2012 USA Curtis Cup Team carded an even-par 72 in the final round of the 90-hole competition to tie for 12th at 6-under 354.

Anderson finished seven strokes behind medalist Jaye Marie Green, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up to Lydia Ko, who converted a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to edge Olafia Kristinsdottir, of Iceland, by one stroke.


Angel Yin, the runner-up in the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior, tied for third at 11-under 349.

A trio of U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champions, Mina Harigae (2007), Emily Tubert (2010) and Brianna Do (2011), earned Category 17 status. Harigae and Tubert both tied for 29th, while Do shared 44th.

The other USGA champions in the field failed to make the 72-hole cut. That included 2004 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Julieta Granada, 2014 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Princess Mary Superal, 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Emma Talley, 2000 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lisa Ferrero and 1997 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Silvia Cavalleri. They all earned status on the Symetra Tour for 2017.

University of Southern California senior Karen Chung, the runner-up to Lexi Thompson in the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior, finished 19th and forfeited her amateur status on Sunday to accept full-time status (Category 12) on the LPGA Tour. She has one class remaining to complete her communications degree.

Other notables to earn Category 12 status included 17-year-old Nasa Hataoka, of Japan, who was a quarterfinalist in this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, and Dori Carter, who led Georgia to the 2009 USGA Women’s State Team Championship.

Notables to earn Category 17 status included 2014 USA Curtis Cup competitor Mariah Stackhouse, also a member of the winning 2009 Georgia side at the Women’s State Team Championship; 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Dottie Ardina; and two-time GB&I Curtis  Cup competitor Stephanie Meadow, who finished third in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2. UCLA senior Bronte Law, of England, who went 5-0-0 in this year’s Curtis Cup Match at Dun Laoghaire for victorious Great Britain and Ireland, turned professional on Sunday after earning Category 17 status.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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