(Reuters) – Tiger Woods will continue his preparation for the U.S. Masters when he makes his Valspar Championship debut this week in Palm Harbor, Florida, as part of an impressive field that includes world number four Jordan Spieth.
Among the other high-profile names competing at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course, which boasts narrow fairways, tough greens and the infamous “Snake Pit”, are four-times major winner Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Sergio Garcia and world number five Justin Rose.
For Woods, who returned to competition this year following spinal fusion surgery last April and is seemingly pain free and surprising many with his level of play, the event will mark his fourth PGA Tour start of the year.
The 14-times major champion, whose 12th-place finish at the Honda Classic two weeks ago was his most promising result since 2015, now returns after a week off hoping to gain more momentum ahead of the April 5-8 Masters at Augusta National, where he is a four-times winner.
Woods will tee off in Thursday’s opening round alongside Spieth and Swedish world number 14 Henrik Stenson.
While Spieth, Rose, Garcia and McIlroy are among the top draws in this week’s field, none have triumphed on the PGA Tour this year. And with only a handful of tournaments left before the Masters each would surely enjoy a timely boost of momentum before the year’s first major.
World number 71 Bill Haas will be making his fist start since he was a passenger in a fatal car crash three weeks ago that took the life of a friend.
Canada’s Adam Hadwin, whose triumph here in 2017 was his first PGA Tour win and earned him a spot at that year’s Masters, returns to defend his title fresh off a pair of top-10 finishes.
The Copperhead Course is widely known for a daunting three-hole closing stretch dubbed the “Snake Pit” and features two brutal par-fours with a tough par-three sandwiched in between.
A large statue of a snake sits just off the 16th tee, which marks the start of what was ranked the fourth-toughest final three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour last year.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis