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9th February 2010

Lawrence Donegan: Will Tiger return to golf in March?

Tiger Woods will not be making his comeback at the Accenture World Matchplay in Tucson next week. Then again, he might be. It depends on how inclined you are to believe speculation that started last week with an un-attributed, un-sourced story in the Herald-Sun of Melbourne.

The blog chooses not believe that story, although this is not a reflection on the Herald-Sun, which has an unblemished record when it comes to scooping the rest of the world on all matters relating to Aussie rules football. But Tiger at the Accenture?

That would mean several things would have to happen, and several people would have to be proved wrong, including the unnamed source “close to Woods”  who allegedly told “as far as I know (Woods’ return) will not be at the Match Play”. Strangely enough, an official connected to the running of the Tucson event used almost same form of words yesterday in response to a query from the blog: “Is he playing here? Off the record? Not as far as we know.”

The key question here is - how far does anyone know?

The answer, it seems, is not very far at all; not unless you happen to be Tiger Woods or his wife Elin Nordegren. As for “sources close to Woods” - they may indeed once have been “close to Woods” but given the upheaval in his life, given his past propensity towards secrecy and given suggestions that several of those closely associated to him in the past haven’t been in contact with him since the crash (and not just the former NBA player Charles Barkley), it could be that they know less than they are inclined to admit.

Notwithstanding the creditable efforts of TMZ and Radaronline  (both of whom appear to be getting whatever information they have from people who have, one way or another, come into contact with the Woods circus over the last 10 weeks rather than from people inside the Woods camp) this has been the most un-crackable story in sport since - well,  the secret life of Tiger Woods prior to November’s car crash.

The absence of credible, verifiable information out there is staggering. Who says Tiger has lost control of his life? Of all the remarkable things about this story, perhaps the most remarkable is that Woods – to the detriment of his image and his financial well-being – has been able to keep the public in the dark. Obviously, he failed in this when it came to the so-called revelations about his alleged mistresses but, beyond that, what do we really know about what happened on the night of the car crash outside his home and what has happened since? The answer, truly, is not much.

I mention all of the above as a pre-amble to address the question of what happens next, as well as preparing you for sad but true answer: I don’t know.

Clearly, this is a journalistic failure but what else can I do – I’ve made the calls. I have asked the questions. I have neither the inclination or the funds to solicit for “insider” gossip, and even if I did I wouldn’t know who to pay. After all, there are no “insiders” when it comes to this story. There are only rumours. And echo chambers, where the rumours you heard last week bounce around for a few days and then come back to you.

However, for what it’s worth, it is possible to make some educated guesses.

Firstly, Tiger probably won’t play at the matchplay for reasons stated above and also because Accenture, which sponsors the tournament, was the first of Woods’  corporate sponsors to dump him in the wake of the scandal.  If past behaviour is any indication of future conduct,  Woods, who is unlikely to have shed his long memory through all of this, will not reward Accenture for this act by rewarding them with the greatest gift of free publicity since John, Luke, Mark et al sat down and wrote the New Testament.

Nick Faldo has said he expects Woods to return at the Masters and that this would be “a great place to start”. For whom? For someone with an unhealthy self-obsession perhaps; someone who might be under the mistaken impression that this – meaning golf, life, the first major championship of the year , whatever – is all about him.

It’s not, of course – which is why Woods will surely have enough sense and common courtesy to dismiss out of hand the silly advice of Faldo. The Masters should be about the golf and about every competitior in the field, not about the world no1 and his desire to return to public life at a tournament where is least likely to be granted accreditation.

Another possibility is that Woods could decide to miss the Masters and, indeed, the rest of the 2010 season. Alan Shipnuck of Sport’s Illustrated made a every believable case for such a scenario in his most recent mailbag:

I don’t think he would go to sex addiction rehab if he wasn’t trying to save his marriage. There’s obviously some very heavy lifting to do on that front, and it doesn’t conform neatly to the PGA Tour schedule. If Elin stays you have to assume a lot of Tiger’s other intimates have to go, so he could be looking at a sweeping shakeup in his business and personal life. Then he has to find the will to get his game back into fighting shape. The last thing Tiger wants to do is show up and struggle, further puncturing his aura. At this point I’d be stunned if he plays the Masters. If he’s not back for the U.S. Open I could easily see him shutting it down until 2011.

It is hard to argue with that. However, it is even harder to argue with the logic of the betting markets, and as of the last few days the flow of money has been towards Woods making a return before the Masters. Jim Furyk, who might be assumed to know Woods a little better than most of the PGA Tour, given that they have been paired together in several team competitions through the years, had this to say the other day:

“If I had to bet, I’d bet we’d see him at Augusta. Tiger hasn’t come out and made any real public statements, so it’s hard to figure out. Everyone is guessing it will be Augusta. Whether he comes out earlier, or there, I have no idea.”

Assuming the matchplay and the Masters are out, that leaves the PGA Tour stops at Phoenix, Palm Beach Gardens (the Honda Classic), Doral (the CA Championship), Innsbrook (the Transitions Championship),  the Bay Hill Invitational, the Shell Houston Open and the Tavistock Cup, a two-day exhibition event to be staged at Isleworth, where Woods has his family home (or at least did until November).

Of those we can dismiss Phoenix, Palm Beach Gardens and Innsbrook – Phoenix because it is a zoo and the other two because Woods has no recent history of supporting those events.

There have been reports that he is planning to come back at the Tavistock Cup, mainly because it is an “invitation only” event held at a private country club, with restricted access for the public and the press.  Again, TMZ published this story, citing as its source “someone who works for the Woods family”.  No offence but would someone who works for the Woods family really be discussing his affairs with TMZ?

However,  a comeback at Isleworth does make a certain sense – Woods does owe them something after all the unwanted attention he has heaped on the place – but if he is serious about competing at the Masters is a two-day hit-and-giggle tournament with his mates really the best preparation? Probably not.

That leaves either the CA Championship at Doral, or the Bay Hill Invitational – tournaments, and venues,  where Woods has won numerous times in the past. He might play both, or he might play just one.

If it is just one then it will be Bay Hill and for the following reasons:

It takes place at the end of March, which will give him more time to get ready to play – especially if, as I was told the other (not by someone who works for the Woods family, I should add) he hasn’t swung a golf since last March.

Bay Hill is in Orlando, close to home; in other words, close to complete privacy after the day is over.

Bay Hill is smaller and more intimate than Doral; the galleries are more “golf” orientated there, as opposed to those at Doral, which are more “event” orientated. There will be more casual fans at Doral, by which I mean more fans who are likely to get tanked up on beer on a Saturday afternoon and shout epithets at the top of Tiger’s backswing.

Bay Hill is Arnold Palmer’s tournament.  God only knows the world was wrong about many things when it came to Woods lifestyle and attitudes. But he has always given the impression that he liked and respected Palmer. Was he faking that too? I don’t think so. Everyone likes Arnie, right?

And finally, I think he will come back at Bay Hill because it is run by Woods’ management company IMG, who will be able to control who gets in to cover what will be one of the biggest sporting occasions of the year. Speaking of which, I applied for my accreditation weeks ago and haven’t heard anything since. Is there something someone isn’t telling me? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Read the full story at The Guardian

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