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Tiger Woods accepts special exemption to play the US Open

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — Tiger Woods will tee up at the US Open for the 23rd time after accepting a special exemption to play the 124th edition of the major on Thursday.

The 48-year-old did not meet the criteria to automatically make the 156-player field set to compete at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in North Carolina on June 16, but will fight for his fourth US Open title after the United States Golf Association (USGA) – tournament organizers of the major – granted him a spot.

“The US Open, our national championship, is a truly special event for our game and one that has helped define my career,” Woods told the USGA.

“I’m honored to receive this exemption and could not be more excited for the opportunity to compete in this year’s US Open, especially at Pinehurst, a venue that means so much to the game.”

Woods has enjoyed a storied career at the tournament. The 15-time major champion clinched his first US Open crown in historically dominant fashion in 2000, finishing 15 shots clear of his closest chaser at Pebble Beach, before adding two more wins in 2002 and 2008, the latter of which he achieved despite a leg fracture and torn ligaments.

Yet Woods did not compete at last year’s tournament in Los Angeles as he continued his recovery from ankle surgery, an all too familiar tale in recent years given the long-term physical impacts of his 2021 car crash.

Sporadic playing appearances have seen his world ranking plummet to world No. 789, well short of the top-60 position that would stamp a ticket to Pinehurst, but Woods’ legacy at the major means his invitation for a third appearance at the venue was an “easy decision” for organizers.

“The story of the US Open could not be written without Tiger Woods,” USGA Chief Championships Officer John Bodenhamer said in a statement.

“From his 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach in 2000 to his inspiring win on a broken leg at Torrey Pines in 2008, this championship is simply better when Tiger is in the field, and his accomplishments in the game undoubtedly made this an easy decision for our special exemption committee.”

‘My goal is to ruin the logo’

Woods will be hoping to build on a history-making outing at The Masters last month, when – in just his third competitive start in a year – he made the cut at Augusta National for an unprecedented 24th consecutive time.

A tough weekend saw him finish 60th, 27 shots behind champion Scottie Scheffler, but Woods remains insistent that he can still close the gap on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships.

Discussing his new sportswear brand “Sun Day Red” on NBC’s Today Show on Wednesday, Woods said it was his mission to “ruin” his line’s own logo, which sees 15 stripes – one for each major – form the shape of a Tiger.

“My goal is to ruin the logo, I want to keep ruining the logo,” Woods told Carson Daly.

“If the trademark is this, my job is to ruin it.”

Woods’ 15-year-old son Charlie was one of 10,052 that attempted to qualify for this year’s US Open, but fell short after shooting nine-over 81 at a local qualifying event in Florida.

The top-five finishers there have advanced to the second and final qualifying stage – dubbed ‘Golf’s Longest Day’ – held at 36-hole events across 10 US and three international venues in May and June.

Those that progress will join the field at Pinehurst aiming to stop reigning champion Wyndham Clark, who finished a single stroke ahead of Rory McIlroy last year to clinch his first major title.

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