Former world number one Tiger Woods has filed an entry to play in this year’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills, tournament organisers confirmed on Thursday.
The 14-time major champion, who has not played in the US Open since 2015, had been expected to return to the event this year following a successful comeback from back surgery.
The 42-year-old finished tied for 32nd place at last week’s Masters at Augusta, his first major since returning from injury.
Woods won the last of his 14 majors at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
This year’s US Open will take place at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, New York from June 14-17, where Woods has played twice before.
Now both golf legends like Woods’s chances to win the 82nd Masters.
After hitting Thursday’s ceremonial tee shots to begin the year’s first major tournament at Augusta National, Player and Nicklaus both said a Woods victory this week would rank as one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history.
“I’ve been amazed at how well he has come back,” Nicklaus said. “He has had to accommodate his fusion and I think that his golf swing is considerably better than it ever was because of that. He would certainly be one of my two or three favorites to win.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the record 18 majors won by Nicklaus, has not won a major title in nearly 10 years, since the 2008 US Open, and hasn’t won the Masters since 2005.
Since then, Woods has undergone divorce after a cheating scandal, several leg and knee injuries and four back operations. He hasn’t won any title since 2013 but is contending and driving well after spinal fusion, a self-dubbed “walking miracle.”
“When he was duffing chips. I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s gone.’ I never thought he would get over that. He was swinging very poorly,” Player said.
“He has been through a lot of adversity and has handled it extremely well,” Player said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him win this week. This is a golf course that’s made for him.”
South Africa’s Player said Woods would have 20 major wins had he not consulted with coaches on swing changes while he was dominating rivals and torching courses.
“Tiger Woods, it always frustrates me because we always want to see somebody break records and he was on the verge of breaking every single record,” Player said. “The reason he didn’t, because he changed his swing.
“The reason Tiger Woods never went on and won 20 majors is… he won the US Open by 15 shots and then he’s having a lesson. Those pros were probably marvelous teachers with amateurs, but could they break 85 on this course? Had they been in the arena to understand?
“I never really understood that because you couldn’t really get any better. He was phenomenal and had he not done that,
I really believe he would have won at least 20 majors.”
Nicklaus, 78, and Player, 82, hit the ceremonial tee shots for the second time since the 2016 death of fellow legend and former honorary starter Arnold Palmer.
“We all miss Arnold,” six-time Masters winner Nicklaus said. “Arnold has been part of our three amigos for a long time. We obviously miss him greatly. But it’s always a thrill to come out on the first tee.”
Three-time Masters champion Player, who won nine career majors, outdrove Nicklaus.
“I said to Jack, ‘Don’t worry, I outdrive you now, but you outdrove me for 50 damn years,'” Player said.
Player and Nicklaus both applauded Augusta National for launching a women’s amateur event next year, but Player noted with regret the club founded the 1933 did not admit its first woman member until 2012.
“It’s something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” Player said of a women’s event at Augusta National.
“I vividly remember when they were talking about women being members of the golf club. Tiger Woods and I really stood up for them and said that they should be admitted into the club, much to our detriment amongst a lot of the members.
“I’m a great believer in women’s rights. And now to see this ladies tournament take place is just fantastic.”
Player said Asian talent is on the rise, especially in China, and likely to contend for a Masters green jacket one day soon.
“They’ve got wonderful golfers coming along,” he said. “It’s on a massive rise.”
The number of television viewers tuning in to the US Masters this weekend is expected to almost double thanks to the Tiger Woods effect, according to Nielsen Entertainment.
Figures released by Nielsen show that the return to form of injury-plagued Woods after years in the wilderness has had a dramatic effect on the number of people tuning in to golf.
“Television viewers are taking notice when Woods is playing in 2018,” Nielsen said in a statement on Wednesday.
“For the four events this season that Woods has finished inside the top 25, broadcast network viewership is up 93% versus the same events last year, or about two million more viewers on average.”
A 14-times major champion, Woods, 41, tees off at Augusta on Thursday vying to pull-off a comeback that would rank as one of the greatest in sport.
Woods last won a major at the 2008 US Open and has missed the last two Masters because of a debilitating back injury.
Pain free at last after spinal fusion surgery last April, Woods has ignited expectations with one runner-up finish and a tie for fifth in five official PGA Tour starts this year — his best finishes since 2015.
“When Tiger plays, fans tune in, it’s as simple as that,” said Jon Stainer, of Nielsen Sports Americas.
“Ahead of the Masters, his return to fitness and form will see swaths of viewers around the world tune in and increase golf’s following dramatically this weekend.”