Tiger Woods close to clarity on tournament site, less so on ability to play in Masters

For Tiger Woods, the certainty was this: Quicken Loans has stepped in to be the sponsor of his Washington-based PGA Tour event, signing a four-year deal. Further clarity — on Woods’s immediate future , as well as that of the tournament — will have to wait a bit.

Woods said Monday that his balky back has prevented him from even hitting balls, and the condition is bad enough that he does not yet know whether he will be ready for the Masters, which begins April 10.

“For Augusta, it’s actually still a little too soon, to be honest with you,” Woods said. “That’s kind of the frustrating thing about this.”

On a day that might have focused on Woods’s desire to keep the tournament he hosts in Washington, the central theme instead was his health issues, which have limited him to one completed tournament since the end of January. The winner of 14 major championships withdrew from the final round of the Honda Classic because of back problems March 2, then struggled to a final-round 78 to close out the Cadillac Championship a week later at Doral.

Since then, with Augusta looming, he said he hasn’t so much as taken a full swing in preparation.

“I’ve been chipping and putting at home,” Woods said in an interview after the event. “That’s it. I haven’t done that much. Just listening to my doctors, listening to my therapists.”

But for now, he must halt his preparations, even as he hopes to break a drought in major titles that is approaching six years, dating from the 2008 U.S. Open.

Woods and his foundation, which stages and benefits from the annual PGA Tour stop here, are also waiting on another front. The members of Congressional Country Club, the original host of what used to be called the AT&T National, are voting on an option to host the event — now called the Quicken Loans National — in 2016, ’18 and ’20. Votes are due at 5 p.m. Sunday, and around 1,000 have been cast so far.

On his preferred venue, Woods leaves little doubt.

“We want Congressional,” Woods said. “Obviously, it is one of the most iconic sites, one of the most iconic golf courses we play. To have a major championship venue like that, to be able to play that on the even-numbered years — even if it’s every other year, which we’re waiting for that vote — we’d like to do that.”

At minimum, though, the event is looking for a new course for 2015. When Congressional needed to redo its greens in advance of hosting the 2011 U.S. Open, the Tiger Woods Foundation held its 2010 and ’11 events at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia. But everyone involved — from Woods to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to Quicken Chief Executive Bill Emerson — seemed committed to keeping the event in the D.C. area annually, be it in a rotation with Congressional or not.

“This is a great sports market and a great golf market,” Finchem said. “It’s the nation’s capital, so particularly to have an event that is focused on the military is a good fit. Tiger’s foundation now has learning centers here, so he has equity in that. There’s a lot of reasons.”

Woods’s foundation has two campuses of its learning centers, which provide after-school programs for disadvantaged children, in the District, and another just opened at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, a development particularly important to Woods given his late father’s career with the U.S. Army’s Special Forces. That, he said, strengthens his ties to Washington. “We want to stay in the region,” Woods said. “We want to stay here. This is where our tournament started.”

The question then becomes, where? Finchem and Woods mentioned TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, the Tour-owned facility that sits across the street from Congressional, and Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, which has hosted the Presidents Cup four times.

Woods said RTJ is “a wonderful golf course.” RTJ General Manager Tom Nevin said Monday that his course has “had several positive meetings with the Tiger Woods Foundation,” and that it is being considered for the event. Woods has also visited TPC Potomac, which has been completely overhauled since it last hosted a PGA Tour event in 2006. “They’ve made some great changes there,” Woods said.

Whatever the outcome of Congressional’s vote, Woods’s foundation and the PGA Tour appear prepared to announce a site for the 2015 tournament soon. “We’ll be ready,” Finchem said.

Which leaves only the matter of Woods’s readiness for Augusta, when the golf season truly begins. He pointed out Monday that in 2008, he had knee surgery after the Masters and couldn’t practice entering the U.S. Open, which he won in a memorable playoff over Rocco Mediate. “I’ve done it before,” he said.

But he also allowed that the problem with his back is fundamentally different. His knee, he said, affected him only after his club made contact with the ball.

“This affects every shot, every stance,” Woods said. “This is very different. I’ve had to treat this as something that’s not normal to me. Over the years, I’ve been able to play through my knee injuries. I’ve tried to play through this, and I just can’t.”

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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