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Tiger timing selfish: Els

GOLF turned on Tiger Woods yesterday as he prepared to face the world and break the long silence over his serial womanising.

If the greatest player of the modern era believed that he would be warmly welcomed back into the fold by his fellow professionals, should he announce his expected return today, he will be forced to think again this morning as he digests the comments of his peers.

Ernie Els was among the most strident as he condemned the "selfish" timing of the world No1's decision to face a selected media gathering -- but take no questions -- in the middle of the prestigious WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

"It's selfish. You can write that," Els said. "I feel sorry for the sponsor. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday. This takes a lot away from the tournament."


It could not go unnoticed that Accenture was one of the first companies to sever sponsorship links with Woods when it became apparent that the sportsman with a squeaky-clean family image was addicted to sex with women other than his wife.

Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy also criticised Woods's decision to appear before a lone television camera at the the PGA Tour headquarters in Florida this afternoon as they tried to concentrate on their golf some 2,000 miles away in Arizona.

McIlroy, the world No8 from Northern Ireland, said: "He's got to come out at some point. I suppose he might want to get something back against the sponsor that dropped him."

There was also criticism that the PGA Tour appeared over-eager to help the American's re-acclimatisation by giving over a room for him to make a statement about events that unfolded after he drove into a fire hydrant outside his home in November.

Woods's manager, Mark Steinberg, of IMG, said: "It's strictly a timing issue. There is a very good reason (to do it today) and not do it next week." But there has been a change in attitude towards Woods.

Steinberg's remark is intriguing. What could this very good reason be? Could Woods be going into exile for a year, starting next week? Or could it be that he is going to announce that his return to competitive golf will begin at the Tavistock Cup next month, a made-for-TV event between teams of professionals, many of whom, like Woods, are IMG's clients.

It appears today's press conference will be a sham. Woods will be surrounded by some friends -- among whom will be Arnold Palmer, apparently -- as he breaks cover and is expected to read a statement that will contain an apology. That much we know because Steinberg has announced it.

But as for the rest of it, the golfing world can only hope and guess. Hope that it will dampen down the interest in Woods, and guess that it will be conducted in an atmosphere not seen at any golf function anywhere, ever. It is tawdry, yet riveting.

Meanwhile, fifth seed Rory McIlroy was among the losers on a day of upsets in the second round at the $8.5m Accenture Match Play Championship on Thursday.

Third-seeded Jim Furyk, Martin Kaymer (4) and Lee Westwood (2) were also eliminated, following the first round defeat of top seed Steve Stricker at Dove Mountain.

That left sixth-seeded Paul Casey the highest ranked player through to the final 16. Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa were among the few big names to advance. Retief Goosen knocked out fellow South African Ernie Els at the 20th hole.