Saturday 24 February 2018

No hint of return for sorry Tiger

Karl MacGinty

TIGER WOODS won his last -- sorry, most recent -- Major title with a crocked knee and two leg fractures.

Yet one suspects the physical agony he endured during that tortured week at the 2008 US Open in Torrey Pines pales into insignificance alongside yesterday's ordeal in the Sunset Room at the Tournament Players Club in Sawgrass.

Inevitably, Tiger looked wooden at times in a situation which only Presidents and Prime Ministers are trained for. Clearly, however, Tiger had been well-coached, pausing at precisely the right moments and even touching his chest with his hand at that key moment: "For all that I have done, I am so sorry."

It was so much like one of those Presidential press briefings at the White House, one half expected Woods to conclude with "God bless you all and God bless America".

Instead, Tiger finished with a simple "thank you," before walking into the arms of his mother, Kultida, who had been sitting in the front row.

There was a distinct funereal feel as Woods then shook hands or embraced with a few friends, including PGA Tour player Notah Begay before, sombrely, he walked through heavy black curtains and away.

It's incredibly difficult even for broadcast professionals to convey sincerity when reading a script. The words Woods uttered yesterday certainly amounted to an abject, heartfelt apology.

actions

Yet as six-times Major champion Nick Faldo, now a golf pundit in the United States, quite rightly said: "It's not about words, it is about actions. Cut to the bottom line, it's all down to actions."

Precisely what action Tiger takes in his attempt to save his marriage is nobody else's business and he's perfectly right in saying questions on that subject completely out of bounds.

It would be fascinating to know precisely what happened that ill-fated November 27 night when he rammed his car into that tree outside his home on the exclusive Isleworth estate in Orlando, Florida, and a gaggle of cocktail waitresses, party girls and porn stars came tumbling down.

Yet the only question golf really needs answered is when will Woods be back?

The chances of Tiger's return to the Major championship arena at April's US Masters certainly seems remote.

Even he's not sure when his treatment at The Gentle Path sex addiction clinic in Mississippi will end, or his rehabilitation as a world-beating golfer can begin.

"I do plan to return to golf one day," he said. "I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year."

Those are sombre words, indeed, for US PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, prominent among those sitting in the front row yesterday, and the world of golf. TV ratings drop by up to 50pc when Tiger doesn't play, while attendances at tournaments fall by more than 20pc.

Woods made his comeback after an eight-month injury break at last year's WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, attracting massive crowds to The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on Dove Mountain, just outside Tucson.

In his absence, the atmosphere at this year's event has been distinctly subdued. Golf simply is not as exciting to the general public when Tiger's not around and, if that's for too long, the sport's earning power will suffer.

It might be hard to sell the Woods brand to corporate entities right now, but the game's prospects of attracting tournament sponsorship without him is greatly diminished.

That explains why the Tour rowed in with hearty assistance for Tiger at this time, even providing him with a secure venue for a function which indisputably has stolen the thunder of this week's $8.5m WGC event, leaving its sponsor, Accenture, in the shade.

Woods thanked "my friends at Accenture" (who were among the first of his sponsors to dump him) and the players in the field in Tucson "for understanding why I'm making these remarks today."

Earlier this week Ernie Els gave words to the disquiet in the locker room at Dove Mountain over the timing of Tiger's announcement, accusing him of selfishness. Faldo responded to the suggestion by Woods (and Finchem) that the matter had been in the hands of his therapists by saying: "I don't buy that; it's just amazing he would stage it today."

Also amazing is the appearance on Wednesday of a photograph of Woods jogging near his home and on Thursday of shots of him smiling and hitting golf balls on the range at Isleworth, pictures which clearly would have far more appeal to newspaper editors than action snaps from this week's tournament at Dove Mountain.

Woods' words had a genuine ring to them, but the actions of Team Tiger in recent days suggest a hidden agenda where Accenture and the tournament they sponsor is concerned.

Tiger returns to the clinic today but if he's been out a week, why could his long-awaited first appearance in pubic not have taken place last Monday or Tuesday -- does a man so deeply sincere about making his apologies really require so many days of coaching in how to say it?

Clearly, the treatment Woods is undergoing is time-consuming. "For 45 days from the end of December to early February, I was in in-patient therapy receiving guidance for the issues I'm facing. I've a long way to go, but I've taken my first steps."

Should we rule out the US Open at Pebble Beach or the British Open at St Andrews, Tiger's two favourite venues in golf and where he achieved two of his greatest Major victories in 2000?

Maybe the JP McManus International Pro-Am at Adare Manor the week before July's British Open, offers Woods the best opportunity of a gentle return to golf and the company of his peers on Tour? Who knows -- not even Tiger.

Given his lifelong ambition to overhaul the record 18 Major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, it's hard to imagine him giving all four of golf's Majors a miss this year.

Despite missing two Majors during his eight months injury lay-up, Woods is still well ahead of Nicklaus' Major-winning schedule. At age 33, Tiger's already won 14 Majors, a total Nicklaus did not achieve until he was 38.

On a lighter note, Padraig Harrington has more reason than most to celebrate Tiger's absence from the Majors. The Dubliner has won the only two Woods didn't play since turning professional in 1996.

One short sentence in Tiger's statement which will be of highest significance to most golfers is: "When I do return, I need to make my behaviour more respectful of the game."

Those few contrite words, hopefully indicate an end to the club-throwing, cursing and spitting which have been such an unwholesome part of Woods' performance on the golf course and for which eight-time Major champion Tom Watson, among others, have taken him to task.

Tiger's fellow professionals, from Stewart Cink to Ben Crane, seemed genuinely touched by his sincerity yesterday. "I think we were all pretty curious to hear what was going to go on," said Graeme McDowell, who watched the broadcast at home.



disappointed

"I'm disappointed obviously, that his return to golf doesn't seem too clear, which is not great for the game in general," the Ulsterman added. "It was very important that he came out and spoke his mind and resolved a few questions. It was a very interesting and honest press conference.

"He seemed very humbled by everything when he came out. I have never seen him so nervous or so down and depressed about things. I guess he had a lot of time to think about things and had a lot of regrets.

"There is no doubt it is going to change him as a person and as a golfer and we are certainly going to notice a lot of differences when we see him back on the golf course."

Yet the bottom line, as Faldo suggested, is still a long way off. Tiger read the script yesterday, but, in the absence of serious questioning, he's yet to talk-the-talk, not to mention, walk-the-walk.

Irish Independent

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