DORAL, Fla. – The where-and-when part continues to evolve.
Daily, if not hourly.
An Associated Press report on Thursday cited two unnamed sources in the Tiger Woods camp who claimed the exiled world No. 1 will make his competitive return at the Masters, which begins April 8.
True enough, with Woods practicing at home for the past 10 days, all signs pointed toward an earlier return, perhaps in two weeks at Arnold Palmer’s tournament in Orlando, where Woods has won six times. In fact, it’s the only regular PGA Tour event that he has never missed in his 13-year career.
Augusta National officials indicated Thursday that they had not heard anything definitive from Woods. Messages left with Woods’ spokesman, Palmer Invitational and Tavistock Cup tournament officials were not immediately returned.
Don’t hold your breath for confirmation of his commitment – the Masters doesn’t have a Friday deadline like the PGA Tour. He can essentially just show up and play during tournament week.
All this week at the CA Championship outside Miami, with his comeback set for sometime soon, players have been peppered with queries about the reception Woods will receive when he returns from the most damaging scandal in modern sports history. In theory, the blowback will be lessened at Augusta National, which uses a legion of private security and can claim many longtime, respectful attendees among its ticketholders.
“I think we all look forward to seeing him back,” Jim Furyk said shortly before the latest Woods report surfaced. “I think we’re probably more than anything looking forward to getting business back as usual, which is not going to be the case for awhile.
“No one is looking forward to that first week because it’s chaos and it’s going to be chaos.”
There are multiple layers to the feelings among the players, to be sure. Several are saying the right things publicly, but seething about what Woods did to the reputation of the game and the tour – and because he has forced them to field questions about his behavior because he’s been in hiding for three months.
One Florida-based player, when asked last week about whether he had seen Woods working on his game and prepping for a comeback, said: “You want my honest answer? I could give a f---.”
Plenty of others feel similarly, but many nonetheless believe the damage to his reputation won’t manifest itself in such a coarse fashion on the course.
“I think he’s going to be more popular than ever,” Robert Allenby said. “Everybody will want to see him play, at least for the next couple of months. He’s been in the news more than anybody not in Iraq.”
If there’s a general sentiment among players, fans and everybody who has been following the ridiculously sordid ebb and flow of the case, it’s that they want Woods to start cleaning up the toxic mess he created.
The messy asides, accusations and snide remarks at his expense never seem to end, do they? So as news circulated that Howard Stern’s website blew up Wednesday because millions were following the schock jock’s R-rated beauty pageant for some of Woods’ alleged former mistresses online, the best way Woods can begin rebuilding his rep is by playing golf.
“All of us would like to see him playing because he’s the best player in the world,” Furyk said Thursday afternoon. “The fans would like to see him playing. He’ll do it on his time when he deems it ready.
“No one is looking forward to the first few weeks. I don’t even think the media is looking forward to the first few weeks. [But] everyone wants to get back to business as usual.”