The Olympics desperately want him there. The Japanese will welcome him with open arms.

And most importantly, the 44-year-old Tiger Woods wants to be at the 2020 Games.

But his amazing rise from the ashes last year could create a fascinating and potentially controversial scenario around a man synonymous with the 0lympics, even though he has never competed there.

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Golf had been missing from the Olympics for more than a century, after Canadian George Lyon won the 1904 gold medal at St Louis in a field made up almost entirely of Americans.


Golf made its Olympic return in 2016 thanks almost entirely to Woods' popularity at the height of his career, the irony being that he was absent when the players teed off in Brazil. His form tumble, amid controversy and injuries, had taken him out of contention.

But in a sports comeback story for the ages, Woods won the Masters last year and is now ranked six in the world, putting him in a scrap with leading American players for a place in the Tokyo Olympic team.

Olympic entry into a field of 60 will be based on the June 22 world rankings, with the top 15 given automatic spots.

But there is a limit of four per country and America has nine players in the current top 15 with Woods having just overtaken Patrick Cantlay as his country's fourth ranked contender.

So Woods' battle to simply make the Olympics could become one of the great sports stories of the year.

In an ESPN feature predicting what sort of year Woods will have, golf analyst Michael Collins says the Olympics will "find a way to have the biggest star in the sport play on the biggest stage in sports, even if organisers have to let him play under his own flag by declaring his property in Jupiter, Florida, its own independent nation."

While other writers and analysts point to the odd hurdle, there is a general feeling that Woods and the universe will make it happen.

ESPN editor Nick Pietruszkiewicz opined: "He's going to make the team. He's going to carry the flag during the opening ceremony. He's going to win the gold medal."


And yet it is not actually that simple. Woods was fifth in the American pecking order until recently, behind Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay who now sits one ranking spot behind Woods.

This raised the possibility, in some minds, of someone stepping aside in order for the man who made golf an Olympic sport again to become an Olympian himself.

The New York Times reported this week that when two International Golf Federation officials made their Olympic case in 2008, the IOC didn't beat about the bush.

"The very first question asked was, 'Will Tiger Woods play?'" according to Ty Votaw, one of the two IGF officials at that meeting in Switzerland.

At the time, Woods seemed like an Olympic automatic even though he had overcome a major injury situation to score an incredible US Open victory, his 14th major title.

Who could have known what was about to come next?

Twelve years on, in another irony, Wood – whose infidelities plunged him into a controversy which gripped a worldwide audience – is seen as an Olympic saviour.

The five ring circus will have to battle on without the incredible star power of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, while dealing with enormous credibility blows led by athletes' use of performance enhancing drugs.

There is no shortage of American Olympic golf contenders yet might one of them opt to stand aside, to let Woods in?

There is one notable precedent for a strategic withdrawal. In 2004, swimming legend Ian Thorpe was disqualified for a false start in the 400 metres freestyle at the Australian trials. A few weeks later, Craig Stevens announced he would relinquish his spot to Olympic champ Thorpe during an interview for which he was paid $130,000 by the Seven Network.

Kieran Perkins, another great Australian swimmer, described the situation as "grubby" saying intolerable pressure had been put on Stevens.

The Woods situation is different however, in that Stevens was already in the Olympic team, and he duly won a relay silver medal in Athens.

The American challenging Wood for an Olympic place are stars in their own right, and stepping aside would mean they could be throwing away their own Olympic medal dreams.

The NYT also wondered whether an American Olympic prospect might suddenly decide that preparation for the $90m FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin a fortnight after the Olympics, was more important than the pursuit of a medal.

Woods' continues to battle physically yet knows he may have to play a heavier than ideal schedule to earn his Olympic place.

"If I play well in the big events (as in 2019) things will take care of themselves," he said.

His 2008 US Open win and long-haul comeback highlight his iron will, and he desperately wants to make the Olympics.

"Last year he described it as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience".

"At the age I'll be, I don't know if I have many more chances."