Former world No 1 Tiger Woods has moved closer to a return to competitive golf by hitting full shots in practice and could be back on track to line up in the Open next month.
Woods missed the year’s first two major championships after undergoing back surgery on 31 March and has not played since the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Speaking on 19 May, Woods had said his recovery was “slow and tedious”, adding: “As of right now I can chip and putt but that’s it.” But in response to a report that he had stepped up his practice regime, the 14-time major winner’s agent Mark Steinberg told the PGA Tour’s website: “Tiger is making continual progress. He feels better each day and [is able to] extend his swing as he moves forward.”
The news increases the possibility that Woods could be back in action in time for the Open from 17-20 July at Hoylake, where he won the last of his three Open titles in 2006. Meanwhile, defending champion Paul Casey spoke with relish yesterday of the drama that lies ahead at this week’s Irish Open at Fota Island Resort, where three qualifying places for the Open will be up for grabs.
Englishman Casey, who won last year’s 72-hole event by three strokes, said the combination of the Irish fans’ enthusiasm and a chance to secure places at the Open ensured great excitement.
“I think it’s wonderful that players will have the opportunity to qualify at the Irish Open,” said Casey. “I have always loved playing in Ireland – and the support from the Irish fans when I won last year was phenomenal.
“The fact that three places in the Open are on the line at this year’s tournament will create even more excitement for the spectators and the players.”
The Irish Open is part of a new Open Qualifying Series, and the top three finishers from a 156-strong international field, from 23 nations, earn places at Hoylake.
Rory McIlroy will be hoping to claim victory on home soil – assuming his clubs turn up, that is.
McIlroy took to Twitter yesterday to complain that United Airlines had lost his clubs on his flight from Newark to Dublin, with the airline replying: “Your clubs will be in tomorrow and we’ll deliver them to the tournament for you.”