Golf’s biggest star may be making a surprise return to the PGA Tour’s loudest stage.
According to two sources, Tiger Woods has signaled that he will enter the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which begins Jan. 29 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Woods has skipped the high-profile Tour stop for the past 13 years after a series of incidents involving the tournament’s famously large and raucous galleries.
One source close to WMPO organizers said Woods has reserved his courtesy car for the event, which has officials cautiously optimistic that he intends to play. But Rob Myers, a spokesman for the Thunderbirds organization that hosts the WMPO, said he is unable to confirm that Woods will join the field.
“We have heard the rumors, but as of yesterday he is not on the confirmation list,” Myers said.
Another well-placed source, who spoke to Golf.com on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Woods has reserved rooms for the week of the tournament at Scottsdale’s upscale Four Seasons Resort.
“There are many high profile guests at the hotel that week and he is one of them,” said the source.
A spokesperson for the Four Seasons Resort declined to comment on whether Woods has a reservation to stay at the property, which is a 20-minute drive from the WMPO venue at TPC Scottsdale.
Woods, an avid sports fan, may have an added incentive to make the trip to the desert: the tournament’s final round on Feb. 1 ends shortly before kickoff in Super Bowl XLIX, which is being played across town at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
The 14-time major winner does not typically commit to PGA Tour events until the deadline to do so, which is the Friday before a tournament begins, Jan. 23 in the case of the WMPO. In response to a Golf.com inquiry, Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said, “Once we have some news, we will be sure to advise.”
After an injury-plagued 2014, in which he made just seven starts and logged a best finish of T25th, Woods has been expected to add at least one event to his usual playing schedule in an effort to get his game in shape for the Masters in April. He returned from a four-month layoff in early December at the Hero World Challenge in Orlando. He finished tied for last in the 18-man field and has not played since.
The Phoenix Open is famous for having the largest galleries on the PGA Tour. Last year’s event drew more than 560,000 fans to TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, including a record one-day attendance of 190,000 for Saturday’s third round. Many of those fans gather at the 16th hole, an amphitheater par-3 that is the center of the tournament’s party atmosphere, and celebrate afterward at the infamous Bird’s Nest nightclub. The hole was also the scene of one of the most enduring highlights of Woods’ career, a hole-in-one in 1997 that generated a thunderous reaction from the boisterous crowd.
Not all of Woods’ experiences with fans in Phoenix have been so positive. In 1999 a spectator who heckled Woods was later tackled by security and found to be in possession of a gun. In 2001, an unruly fan threw an orange onto a green while Woods was putting. Woods has not returned since.
How excited would you be to see Tiger on the 16th tee at the Waste Management Phoenix Open this year? Join the conversation in the comments below.