Tiger Woods sets date to face journalists at the Masters
In agreeing to hold a media feeding frenzy on the first day of Masters week, Tiger Woods seems finally to have embraced Ernie Els's wisdom that public statements are for Mondays.
This was the South African's argument when Woods had the temerity to run a televised apology on the Friday of last month's World Matchplay, ostensibly in a selfish slight against the sponsors, Accenture, who had dropped their 'Go on, be a Tiger' slogan without ceremony.
It was the same point made last weekend by the managing director of Transitions, the company whose tournament was eclipsed by two television interviews that Woods gave on Sunday night, just as Jim Furyk was winning his first PGA title for three years.
So for the mayhem of his Masters return Woods has apparently been nothing but considerate, with Augusta's tentative interview schedule showing 2pm on Monday, April 5, as the appointed hour for his much-trailed first confrontation with journalists en masse.
If only it were so straightforward. Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent, is here in Orlando this week for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, and talk abounds that he has engineered another brilliantly cynical piece of timing for his man.
April 5 just happens to be the opening day of the baseball season, and the date for the national championship game in college basketball, two occasions that traditionally dominate the networks: a good day to bury bad news, if ever there was one.
A clue as to the madness about to engulf Woods can be found at Bay Hill, where media outlets representing everywhere from Jakarta to Bergen are accredited.
This was in the misplaced anticipation that he would make a pre-Masters appearance here, but at least the Scandinavians were given something to write about on Thursday as Sweden’s Henrik Stenson surged into a share of second place, on five under par, with a first-round 67 to lie one behind American J B Holmes.
His fortunes contrasted markedly with those of Justin Rose, needing to rise nine places in the world rankings this week to stand any chance of qualifying for the Masters. A laboured 75 did little to help the Englishman, who said: “I’m tired, ------ off, and ready to go off and shoot 65.”
Stenson, trying to recapture his form after winning last year's Players Championship, offers an intriguing perspective on Woods' disgrace through the friendship he has with the world No 1's Swedish-born wife, Elin Nordegren.
The 33 year-old has been sensitive to the reporting of the scandal in his home country, saying: "There have obviously been a lot of things written about it. I know Elin and my wife knows Elin. We just hope that things are going to work out for the best for them. She's a sweet girl."
A cult following has developed around Stenson since he stripped to just his underwear and a golf glove to play an escape shot at Doral a year ago, and he confessed to a relief at reviving his game in time for Woods' restoration to the fold.
"It's always harder to win when Tiger is in the field," he said. "Plus it gives you a greater satisfaction to win when he's there. I expect to have a pretty high standard."
A signature mischievous smirk was never far away, though. "I'm not saying that Tiger hits every fairway, because we know he doesn't."
Perhaps Stenson's Nordic composure, even more noticeable than usual, could be attributed to the birth three weeks ago of a second child, Karl. Appropriately, it happened to take place in the children's hospital supported by this week's host, Arnold Palmer.
But the sleepless nights have failed to affect his habit of scrutinising the most minute details of his play. "I'm pretty good at overanalysing, I promise you," Stenson said. "I don't think any baby in the world will prevent me from doing that. It's a change going from three to four in the family, and I know how much excitement we have had with Lisa, our daughter, these last 2½ years. Now I can have two hugs after making a bogey instead of one."
Evidently, it was a release for Stenson to wax lyrical on a subject separate to Woods. In any case, he has better things to do on April 5 than watch a press conference: it is his birthday. "I hope I have a late celebration with a green jacket," he smiled.
Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie, who is on a morale-sapping eight-year title drought, rolled back the years on Friday to take a share of the first-round lead at the Andalucia Open.
The 41 year-old Scotsman carded a five-under-par 65 to join defending champion Soren Kjeldsen, of Denmark, at the top of the leaderboard, one shot ahead of a group of seven players.