Tiger Woods is skipping Bay Hill but has not ruled out playing at Innisbrook in The Valspar Championship

ORLANDO — (AP) Tiger Woods is taking a third straight week off by deciding against playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Woods, 44, hasn’t played a tournament since his 76-77 weekend at Riviera, where he finished 68th in the Genesis Invitational while serving as tournament host. He decided against the World Golf Championship in Mexico City last week and the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens this week, saying his back was stiff and he needed time to rest and train.

Woods’ back issues might actually by good news for the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor. Valspar takes place March 19, the week after the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach. With Woods now scheduled to miss three consecutive tournaments, he might decide, if he’s healthy, that he needs to get in as many live tournament rounds as he can before the Masters on April 9.

Woods played Valspar in 2018, drawing record crowds to Innisbrook. He often cited his play in the tournament as the jump-start in his comeback from four back surgeries, en route to winning the Tour Championship in September of that year and the Masters in 2019.

On Friday, Valspar also added another big name to its field. Justin Thomas, the fourth-ranked player in the world and the 2017 PGA Championship winner, committed to play, joining the likes of No. 3 Brooks Koepka, No. 5 Dustin Johnson and two-time defending champion Paul Casey.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Bay Hill. He has played it only once since his last Arnold Palmer Invitational victory in 2013, including four straight years while going through surgeries on his lower back.

He tied for fifth, eight shots behind Rory McIlroy, when he last played in 2018.

Brooks Koepka committed to Bay Hill on Friday. He missed the cut at this week’s Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens and said he plans to play the next four weeks through the Match Play in Texas. That would give him a week off before the Masters. Koepka is playing Bay Hill for the second straight year. He has missed the cut the last two times.

McIlroy leads the field as a past champion and the No. 1 player in the world. He is among three players from the top 10 who are playing. The other is Patrick Reed, coming off a victory in the Mexico Championship.

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