Tiger Woods is close to a long-awaited return to Atlanta.
After a two-year absence Woods will, in all likelihood, be in town for the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club next month. Golf’s biggest draw leads the FedEx Cup point standings heading into this week’s PGA Championship. After missing the tour’s playoff finale in 2010-11, Woods’ re-emergence will be a hit with fans and tournament officials.
“No question we do not have a blind eye from that reality,” said Rob Johnston, Tour Championship general chairman, of Woods’ return. “He is a marquee player of extraordinary significance.”
The Tour Championship will be held Sept. 20-23 for the 12th time at East Lake.
Woods is showing signs of returning to the form that once made him a staple at the top of leaderboards, money lists and world rankings. He has three wins this season, tops on the PGA Tour, and with a world ranking of No. 2 is close to regaining his top spot.
There is still work to do with the final major this week preceding one regular-season event and three playoff events. However, Woods’ position atop the standings makes it a foregone conclusion he will return to East Lake as one of the top 30 in points.
It’s not just the return of Woods that has Johnston excited about this year’s tournament. He can list the well-known names of those currently in position to make the field with ease – Masters champion Bubba Watson, U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, British Open champion Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.
Currently 17 of the top 20 in the world rankings are in the top 30 in FedEx Cup points. Only Lee Westwood (No. 4), Adam Scott (No. 7) and Louis Oosthuizen (No. 16) are not in position.
“Right now, the top 30 is extraordinary,” Johnston said.
In Woods’ last appearance at the Tour Championship in 2009, he finished second but won the overall playoff title and the $10 million prize.
According to Johnston, the strength of the field and the fact that the Tour Championship is not competing for local interest and dollars against the PGA Championship, held last year at the Atlanta Athletic Club, are the two biggest factors for an increase in ticket demand. A limited number of tickets for the event remain.
Last year’s tournament winner Bill Haas, who also captured the playoff title, is currently on the bubble. He is 26th on the point list and can’t afford to drop more than four spots in the playoff events, the Barclays (Aug. 23-26), the Deutsche Bank Championship (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) and the BMW Championship (Sept. 6-9).
The finishing touches for the tournament are being put on East Lake, which again endured a dry, hot summer. Johnston said the well-watered fairways and greens are nearly tournament ready and the construction of grandstands and hospitality tents are three to four weeks away from completion. All 1,350 volunteer positions have been filled.
Proceeds from the Tour Championship will again, in part, go to support the East Lake Foundation and the Drew Charter School. The approval for a high school was recently granted and Johnston hopes a capital campaign will begin within the year. The Drew Charter School currently is home to kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
- Chris Vivlamore, AJC Sports