ORLANDO, Fla. -- A week ago, when an Aussie paper opined that Tiger Woods was going to emerge from his months' long hibernation at the PGA Tour's big match-play event later this month, it mostly elicited a series of laughs among those who follow the tour for a living.
For a half-dozen reasons, the report felt as far-flung as the story's point of origin, Melbourne.
The more the latest prediction about Woods' much-anticipated return is mulled, however, the more it sounds plausible, if not downright reasonable, if not damned advisable. Put another way, from the ever-evasive Woods' perspective, it would amount to sheer brilliance.
|Sleep deprivation wouldn't be an issue with Tiger Woods playing within a chip shot of his driveway. (Getty Images)|
Of all the bob-and-weave, duck-and-cover, rope-a-dope moves Woods has made over the years to avoid the limelight and escape accountability, this might be his most masterful idea.
The two-day event will be held this year at his home course, Isleworth Country Club, which means that on his first day back on the job, he can walk to work. Just to set the geography for you, Woods could hit his first public shot since last fall on a practice range located 50 yards from his driveway, not to mention the most famous tree and fire hydrant in Orlando.
Over the years, the Tavistock Group, the privately-held company that owns Isleworth and sponsors the six-year-old event, has openly welcomed anybody who was interested in covering the boutique tournament, where teams from Isleworth and crosstown club Lake Nona square off. Tavistock officials practically sent a limo to the homes of interested media members in the past.
At the moment, they are in full lockdown mode.
"We have no comment," Andy Odenbach, a Tavistock employee who runs the tournament, said in an e-mail.
We're admittedly playing media word games here, but that isn't exactly a denial. That said, let's catalog the plentiful reasons why the Tavistock might serve as the perfect pre-Masters tuneup for the elusive Eldrick, shall we?
• He won't have to leave the Isleworth property, or even fire up his car, assuming he still has one, in order to play. As far as the paparazzi goes, barring the use of rented helicopters or blimps, there can be no Tavistalking.
• The daily crowd traditionally has been limited to a combination of around 5,000 club members, invitees and corporate guests. In short, the public can't buy tickets because none are for sale.
• Thus, there's almost no chance Woods will be heckled, harassed or harangued by fans upset with his offseason antics. About the only noise generated at the Tavistock Cup is the sound of kept women rattling their jewelry.
• He's business partners with Tavistock founder and billionaire Joe Lewis, and has some of his own money invested in the company's Albany project, a mega-high-end Bahamian real-estate development featuring a course designed by Ernie Els. Woods views Lewis as a financial mentor. Given the astoundingly bad publicity Woods caused the club, and the inconveniences he created for his neighbors, he surely owes them something.
• The event is sanctioned by the PGA Tour, but isn't run by the Ponte Vedra gang, which means media credentials can be tightly controlled and denied, if not eliminated completely, with no explanation given.
• Media access to players in the past has, at times, been nonexistent. Writers and cameramen from local TV outlets have often been ordered to stand in a roped-off area while players conduct interviews with the broadcast outlet, the Golf Channel. Woods has usually vamoosed before getting hit with anything other than atta-boys and post-round pabulum.
• His teammates would consist of longtime tour veterans who are Isleworth club members and they aren't likely to wear him out with probative questions, either. There were only 20 players on the Tavistock rosters in 2009, 10 on each team. He knows all these guys and would probably be paired against somebody like Els, a longtime acquaintance. The pairings can be manipulated to suit his fancy.
• Perhaps most importantly, Woods won't be required to field a single media request unless he wants to, which means he can slink home -- as he has done frequently after completing Tavistock rounds -- without uttering a word. Moreover, if he does the Greta Garbo routine at the Masters two weeks later, he could get through the month of April without apologizing or explaining what happened the morning after Thanksgiving. The more calendar distance he places between his transgressions and any forthcoming explanation, assuming he ever offers one, the less he is likely to be grilled over it.
• It's free money for falling out of bed. Each player on the winning team last year received $100,000 and the player who records the lowest individual round on the second day takes home another $300,000. Woods has won the low-round prize in three of the tournament's six years. In case you haven't noticed, his income levels have taken a serious eight-figure hit lately.
• He can even wear shorts if he wants, although the Lojack tracking device his wife will probably shackle on his ankle as he heads out the door might be a bit obvious.
Granted, the Tavistock isn't remotely a true-grit, mega-competitive event that will greatly hone his game for Augusta National, assuming it's his lone pre-Masters start. But it's akin to a baseball spring training outing, at minimum.
Woods' representatives aren't commenting on his plans and the Tavistock Group has dived underground -- I have played golf with these guys and they are usually downright chatty -- but mum or not, the Tavistock is already the talk of the town. The two-day match is set to be broadcast on the Golf Channel, which isn't exactly known for busting out the heavy artillery as it relates to controversial issues on live broadcasts.
He could segue gradually into tour mode and possibly avoid any major mea culpa moments, if that's the way he wants to play it.
Will it happen? One of Isleworth's tour players said that he had heard on Tuesday that Woods most likely won't play in the event, but hadn't heard a reason why.
Maybe because, as it relates to spin control and his career comeback, there don't appear to be many.