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Tiger Watch

Tiger Woods isn't automatically in a major championship field for the first time since 1996

December 13, 2023

Tracy Wilcox

Tiger Woods recently revealing a plan to play "once a month" in 2024 was music to golf fans' ears. But to do that, he'll likely need a special invitation from one of golf's governing bodies.

That's because the 15-time major champ isn't currently qualified for the U.S. Open, something recently pointed out by Sports Illustrated's Bob Harig.

As Harig also points out, this situation can—and will—be easily fixed by the USGA extending Woods a special exemption. Phil Mickelson most recently received one in 2021, and it's something the USGA has done as far back as Ben Hogan in 1966. Jack Nicklaus (eight) and Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson (five a piece) have received the most special exemptions in U.S. Open history.

Amazingly, this is the first major Woods isn't automatically in (again, for now) since the 1996 PGA Championship, which took place a couple weeks before Tiger turned pro. He won his first major as a pro, the 1997 Masters, by 12 shots.

That victory made Woods exempt at the Masters for life, and he also holds that status at the PGA Championship. He is exempt until he's 60 at the Open Championship. But his U.S. Open exemption—five years from his most recent Masters win in 2019—ran out in 2023 when he was unable to play in the event after undergoing subtalar fusion surgery on his right ankle in April.

Woods, who turns 48 at the end of December, could also qualify for the tournament by playing his way into the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking by a cut-off date in late spring. But that's a tall order considering he's currently ranked 898th. Or, he could show up at a sectional qualifier, but again, we're pretty sure that's not going to be necessary for the nine-time (three U.S. Opens, three U.S. Amateurs, and three U.S. Juniors) USGA champ.

Woods made his return to competitive golf last month at the Hero World Challenge, finishing 18th in the field of 20. The 2024 U.S. Open will be held June 13-16 at Pinehurst No. 2.