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Tiger Woods' return to golf boosts Napa PGA Tour event

By
Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
USA Team vice-captain Tiger Woods leaves the opening ceremony of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota on September 29, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
USA Team vice-captain Tiger Woods leaves the opening ceremony of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota on September 29, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Tiger Woods, merely by saying he will show up, can lift a golf tournament to great heights.

That is what is happening to the Safeway Open, which will kick off the 2016-17 PGA Tour season beginning Thursday at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif.

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When Woods announced Sept. 7 on his website that he was hoping to play in the Safeway Open, it had an immediate effect on the tournament.

"It's our first year (managing the tournament), so we don't have a benchmark," said Jeff Sanders, executive director of the Safeway Open, but he suggested at the time that Woods could be responsible for a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in ticket sales.

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When Woods committed to the tournament hours before the deadline last Friday, there was speculation that the figure could surpass 50 percent in the first year since Safeway took over from Frys.com as title sponsor.

There were stories in the days leading up to the commitment deadline that Sanders and other tournament officials were getting a little nervous when no official word came from Woods.

However, Woods routinely waits until right before the deadline before committing to most events he plays.

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Sanders was overjoyed when he got the news.

"Tiger Woods is arguably the best player to ever play the game based on his record," Sanders said. "He's so electrifying and so exciting to watch play golf. I just love watching him play golf. I'm very optimistic that he's going to do really well, as long as he's healthy.

"This is big news for all of the Northern California golf fans and really golf fans around the world, that Tiger Woods is coming back to play PGA Tour golf. We're just super excited that he's going to play the Safeway Open in his first tournament back after this long break.

"Obviously, this is fantastic news for the Safeway Open in our first year."

Woods, whose 79 PGA Tour victories are three behind Sam Snead's record, hasn't played since he tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015.

Woods, 40, sustained a back injury early in 2014 and underwent a microdiscectomy that caused him to miss the Masters for the first time. He came back in June 2014, too soon he later admitted, and after playing sporadically through the 2015 Wyndham, he underwent two more procedures on his back.

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For the first time in his career, Woods said he has been patient in his recovery from injury. He sat out the entire 2015-16 season.

"It was difficult missing tournaments that are important to me, but this time I was smart about my recovery and didn't rush it," said Woods, who has 14 victories in his native California, the last when he captured the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open for a record seventh time at Torrey Pines.

"I miss being out here and competing with the guys. I just miss playing golf. I know I can play with these guys. I know I still can. ... I'm looking forward to going to California. It could be a fun fall."

Woods was most recently seen two weeks ago when he served as a vice captain to Davis Love III as the United States regained the Ryder Cup by beating Europe at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

Several players on the team urged Woods to hit balls with them on the range, but he was not seen with a golf club in his hand all week, although there were reports that he did sneak off to another course a few times to hit shots.

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Jesper Parnevik, a fellow pro and a neighbor of Woods in South Florida, is one of the few people who have seen Woods play recently.

"I see Tiger at the Medalist (Golf Club)," Parnevik told Golf Digest. "We talk and have played nine holes together. By the way, he's been hitting a lot of balls, and he's hitting it great. He's pounding it a mile and flushing everything.

"On the range, at least, his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago. Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular."

Phil Mickelson, Woods' biggest rival during their careers, wants to see it first hand.

Mickelson committed to play in the Safeway Open well before Woods did, and when Lefty heard that Woods was planning to play in the opener, he immediately began to lobby tournament officials to put them together in the first two rounds.

So the Safeway Open, in its first playing, has what every tournament in the last 20 years has wanted -- Tiger and Phil.

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