Tiger Woods gets special exemption to US Open at Pinehurst

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Tiger Woods accepted a special exemption for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, the first time the three-time champion has needed an exemption to play.

Woods has been exempt for every U.S. Open since he first played in 1995 as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. His five-year exemption from winning the 2019 Masters expired last year.

The exemption was expected and likely to be the first of many. The USGA is particular about who is exempt from qualifying, last awarding one in 2021 to Phil Mickelson.

Jack Nicklaus, with four U.S. Open titles among his 18 professional majors, received a record eight special exemptions, including five in a row until he stopped playing the U.S. Open after 2000 at Pebble Beach.

Arnold Palmer received five U.S. Open exemptions, the last one in 1994 when he returned to Oakmont near his hometown for a tearful farewell.

Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots, a record margin of victory for any major champion. He added another title in 2002 at Bethpage Black in New York, and he famously won his third U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 just a week before he had reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

“The U.S. Open, our national championship, is a truly special event for our game and one that has helped define my career,” Woods said in a statement. “I’m honored to receive this exemption and could not be more excited for the opportunity to compete in this year’s U.S. Open, especially at Pinehurst, a venue that means so much to the game.”

The U.S. Open is June 13-16 at Pinehurst No. 2, which is staging the Open for the fourth time. Woods tied for third, two shots behind the late Payne Stewart, in 1999. He was runner-up at Pinehurst in 2005 to Michael Campbell. He missed the most recent Open at Pinehurst in 2014 while recovering from the first of what would be four back surgeries.

Woods has a long history with the USGA as the only player to win the U.S. Junior Amateur three straight times, followed by the U.S. Amateur three straight times. His nine USGA championships are matched only by amateur great Bobby Jones.

Woods earlier this year was selected to receive the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor from the USGA.

“The story of the U.S. Open could not be written without Tiger Woods,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s chief championships officer. ”From his 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach in 2000 to his inspiring win on a broken leg at Torrey Pines in 2008, this championship is simply better when Tiger is in the field, and his accomplishments in the game undoubtedly made this an easy decision for our special exemption committee.”

It will be the first time Woods competes in the U.S. Open since Winged Foot in 2020, held in September before no fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He crashed his car in Los Angeles and badly injured his right leg and ankle in February 2021, causing him to miss the U.S. Open’s return to Torrey Pines. While he returned to competition a year later, the U.S. Open at Brookline in 2022 was the only major he didn’t play. A year ago, Woods had surgery to fuse his right ankle after the Masters and did not play the rest of the year, missing the U.S. Open’s debut at Los Angeles Country Club.

Woods last contended at the U.S. Open in 2010 at Pebble Beach, where he shot 66 in the third round but then closed with a 75 and tied for fourth.

He is expected to play in the PGA Championship in two weeks at Valhalla, where he won in 2000 on his way to capturing all four majors consecutively. Woods said during a round of appearances on NBC shows earlier this week to promote his clothing line that his plan was to play the remaining three majors.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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