Why Tiger Woods Will Struggle To Qualify For The US Open Again…But Should Still Be Able To Play For Years To Come

Tiger Woods has a special exemption into this year's US Open, but with qualification again next year looking tough, could it be his last?

Tiger Woods during the second round of The Masters
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Three-time US Open champion Tiger Woods has been given a special exemption into the 2024 event at Pinehurst No.2, but could it be the final time we see him lining up in his national Open?

With Woods' five-year Major exemption for winning the 2019 Masters expiring, he was not due to line up at Pinehurst this year until the United States Golf Association (USGA) gave him a special invite.

It's the first time in his career the 15-time Major champion failed to qualify for the US Open - which unlike the other three Majors only hands out 10-year exemptions for winning the title.

Woods claimed his last US Open victory in 2008, after also lifting the trophy in 2000 and 2002, but with his appearances now severely limited it's this event that he's at risk of never playing again after this year unless things change drastically.

So could this be his last US Open? Will he keep getting special exemptions? And if not, what's his best route for qualifying again? Let's take a look...

How many US Open special exemptions will Tiger Woods get?

Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus

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The 'special' in the USGA's special exemption is just that as they are very careful about who they hand them out to - with Woods being the first recipient since Phil Mickelson got one in 2021.

And if you look at the list of players to get these special exemptions then it's almost exclusively huge names in golf history so you have to be a special player to get one - let alone get multiple.

These special invitees have also performed well at times - with Hale Irwin even managing to win the US Open after getting the first of his three special exemptions at the 1990 event at Medinah. 

And going into the true legends of the game, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer both received five special invites into the US Open - with Watson finishing T29 in 2010 at Pebble Beach in his final appearance aged 60.

And then there's Jack Nicklaus who got eight invites into the US Open, the first of which coming in 1991 when he was aged 51 and the final coming at Pebble Beach in 2000 aged 60.

So with Woods the only player you can really compare to Nicklaus as the greatest of all time, the USGA may follow suit and continue to offer him an invite if he fails to qualify elsewhere.

How can Tiger Woods get back into the US Open?

A lot of getting into the US Open depends on results elsewhere, and Woods' main problem right now is his inability to play regularly outside of the Majors.

As Collin Morikawa said recently, he can still play all of the shots but just simply walking around the golf course is where the problems lie as a result of all of Woods' surgeries.

Looking at the criteria for qualifying for the US Open, it basically rules Woods out of of a return through getting back into the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Given Woods' physical condition, he's also highly unlikely to ever be able to get through the gruelling US Open qualifying schedule - let alone whether his pride would let him enter it in the first place.

So on the face of things it looks like Woods' best chance is putting up a performance either this year at Pinehurst, where a top 10 finish will book his spot for 2025, or in one of the three other Majors with a win granting him another five-year exemption.

If all else fails, 48-year-old Woods could find a way back into the tournament via the PGA Tour Champions, which he can join once he turns 50 in December 2025, as the winner of the US Senior Open Championship gets a spot in the following US Open proper.

How long can Tiger Woods play in the Majors?

Tiger Woods wins the 2019 Masters

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Although Woods' immediate future in the US Open hangs in the balance, he's safely set in the other three Majors thanks to his victories over the years.

The five-time Masters champion gets a free pass into the field at Augusta National for life, so he can stroll down Magnolia Lane as long as he wants.

It's the same story at the PGA Championship, which Woods has won four times with back-to-back successes in 1999-2000 and 2006-07.

His reward for lifting the Claret Jug three times is that Woods can compete in The Open Championship until he turns 60.

So although the US Open may be a struggle, we'll still hopefully see Woods competing at three of golf's Majors at the very least.

Paul Higham

Paul Higham is a sports journalist with over 20 years of experience in covering most major sporting events for both Sky Sports and BBC Sport. He is currently freelance and covers the golf majors on the BBC Sport website.  Highlights over the years include covering that epic Monday finish in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and watching Rory McIlroy produce one of the most dominant Major wins at the 2011 US Open at Congressional. He also writes betting previews and still feels strangely proud of backing Danny Willett when he won the Masters in 2016 - Willett also praised his putting stroke during a media event before the Open at Hoylake. Favourite interviews he's conducted have been with McIlroy, Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Rickie Fowler and the enigma that is Victor Dubuisson. A big fan of watching any golf from any tour, sadly he spends more time writing about golf than playing these days with two young children, and as a big fair weather golfer claims playing in shorts is worth at least five shots. Being from Liverpool he loves the likes of Hoylake, Birkdale and the stretch of tracks along England's Golf Coast, but would say his favourite courses played are Kingsbarns and Portrush.