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Tiger to return next week in Ohio

AKRON, Ohio, July 29 – Tiger Woods, a 14-time major champion who has struggled with a left knee injury, will play his first competitive event in nearly three months next week at a World Golf Championships tournament.

The former World No. 1 announced Thursday on his website that he will play at the $8.5 million WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio — a course where he has won seven titles.

“I’m excited to get back out there,” Woods said.

Woods has not played since May 12 when he withdrew from the Players Championship after nine holes after aggravating a strained left knee and left Achilles tendon injury he suffered at the Masters in April.

“Feeling fit and ready to tee it up at Firestone next week. Excited to get back out there,” Woods said in a posting on his Twitter microblogging account.

Woods, who has fallen to 21st in the rankings, has not won a title since the Australian Masters some 20 months ago, just before the eruption of a sex scandal that ruined his iconic image and led to a divorce from Elin Nordergen.

Woods missed the US Open and British Open on the advice of doctors, resting and rehabilitating his left leg, and has only recently started to hit balls in practice sessions.

How well Woods fares at Akron will likely determine whether or not he competes the following week at the year’s final major tournament, the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Woods has typically used the WGC event as a tuneup for the PGA Championship, a break from his routine of taking the week off before the earlier majors each year, so the event should be a solid indicator of his form.

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While vowing he still has a strong chance to break the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, Woods has struggled with knee injuries for years and has not won a major crown since the 2008 US Open when he limped through a playoff to claim the crown.

And the man who carried the clubs for Woods in 13 of his major triumphs will not be the man who does so next week.

Woods announced last week he had fired Steve Williams, his bagman for the past 12 years and for all but one of his major victories. The New Zealander has become the caddie for Australian Adam Scott.

Just who will serve as caddie for Woods was not announced by the superstar, who will be coming off the third-longest layoff of his career.

The Golf Channel reported Thursday that Bryon Bell, a friend of Woods since their youth and president of Tiger Woods Design, would caddie for Woods next week. Bell has done so three times previously for Woods in PGA events.

Woods also has something to prove at Akron, having shared 78th last year in his worst 72-hole showing. That was the first time in 11 appearances at Akron that he failed to crack the top four.

So far this year, Woods has played in six events, cracking the top 10 twice, including a share of fourth at the Masters for the second year in a row.

Even if Woods is healthy, his comeback might be short lived. He has fallen to 133rd in the points race for positions in the PGA playoffs and only the top 125 qualify. That gives him the next two weeks to fight his way into a berth.

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