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Players excited, surprised by Tiger’s Phoenix commitment

KAPALUA, Hawaii – OK, so the round of 3-under 70 to open the Hyundai Tournament of Champions had him feeling pretty good Friday afternoon. After all, Charley Hoffman is still trying to figure out the Plantation Course in this, his third visit, so breaking par was a good start.

But what also had him in good spirits was news earlier in the day that Tiger Woods had officially committed to play in the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Jan. 29-Feb. 1. Call it a great day for Hoffman and his corporate supporters.

“With Waste Management being one of my sponsors, it’s great,” Hoffman said. “I know the CEO (David P. Steiner) has been asking me, ‘How do we make that field one of the premier events of the year?’ Well, I think one guy just made it one of the premier events of the year, for sure.”

These guys may be PGA Tour members, but they’re fans, too, and Hoffman concedes he heard whispers in recent days that Woods would sign on to play in the WMPO for the first time since 2001. “There was some chatter, (but) you’re always hesitant,” Hoffman said.

As much as Hoffman was thrilled, other players expressed surprise. Tim Clark, for instance, thought Woods’ participation at TPC Scottsdale was a thing of the past, especially on a week when the Super Bowl will be in town. Geoff Ogilvy said, “I’m stunned.”

Scottsdale residents, Clark (four starts at TPC Scottsdale) and Ogilvy (12) know the sort of crowds that flock to this tournament and presumed that Woods would avoid the spectacle that is the par-3 16th stadium hole.

Given that he already has established his schedule and has opted to bypass the WMPO this year, Clark said he now had reason to go out and watch. No worries about a ticket, either. “I can use my (PGA Tour members’) badge,” he said, laughing.

Two players with TPC Scottsdale connections were pleased to hear the news. Defending champion Kevin Stadler said he didn’t think the stadium crowd “could get any crazier,” but it might in a few weeks. “It certainly will have a different buzz. It should be cool.”

Said Scott Stallings, who is based in Scottsdale in the winter and plays out of Whisper Rock: “I’m pumped. I think it’s awesome. (Having) Tiger is going to make it better. For the people and TPC Scottsdale, I can’t be happier for them.”

Hoffman was happy for his sponsors, the Waste Management folks. “Phil (Mickelson) most likely is going to be there, and (Rickie) Fowler,” Hoffman said.

“It’s great. I think it’s probably going to be one of the biggest sporting events of the year, when it’s all said and done. You’ve got the Super Bowl there (on Sunday, Feb. 1). It will be worth the price of admission to see what happens on 16 if (Woods) is playing well (come Saturday).”

Hoffman is aware of the landscape, that Woods struggled mightily with poor play and injuries in 2014, that the world’s most iconic player is only nine-plus months removed from a microdiscectomy. Nothing at the Hero World Challenge in December indicated Woods was ready to compete on the PGA Tour, but he would have had six weeks or so to work on his game.

“I always hope Tiger plays well,” Hoffman said. “It’s great for the game, great for golf, great for him. Hopefully he’s in contention coming down the stretch Sunday and we’ll see a spectacle.”

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