Silence isn't golden for 'America's most wanted'
It's like looking for Howard Hughes or Waiting for Godot. When last Friday came and went without word from Tiger Woods, we at least knew he wouldn't be turning up in Tucson for this week's WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.
Friday, March 5, the entry deadline for next month's WGC CA Championship at Doral, is every bit as likely to pass with the same eerie silence. The unofficial and strictly private Tavistock Cup, due to be played on Tiger's home course at Isleworth in Orlando on March 22 and 23, remains the most likely setting for his return to competitive golf.
And if Woods still wants to play in April's US Masters, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill (March 25-28) offers him an obvious opportunity to play 72 holes of PGA Tour golf a fortnight before Augusta.
Lips at Isleworth are reportedly sealed tighter right now than the perimeter at the exclusive resort where Tiger crashed his Cadillac Escalade on November 27, bringing his public image down around him.
The Tavistock Cup is an annual made-for-television match between star-studded teams representing Isleworth and Lake Nona. Woods, who has played every year since the inaugural event in 2004, could not ask for a better opportunity to break the ice with 19 of his professional colleagues.
In so doing, he'd boost ratings enormously and establish the Tavistock Cup as one of the pre-eminent charity fundraisers in professional golf, though Tiger's presence might affect the ambiance of an event exclusively attended by well-heeled residents of the two Orlando resorts, their families and friends.
Woods never was likely to play in Tucson. He'd zero opportunity to hit golf balls in the six weeks he spent at that clinic in Mississippi and there's no way he'd be coaxed back into action in public without adequate preparation.
No question, Tiger's performance in his first few events back on Tour will be critical in setting the tone for the rest of his career. There's no point Woods returning before he (or his family) are ready, strengthening belief in some quarters that even this year's Masters may come too soon.
If the question 'when' poses difficulties, 'how' seems much more straightforward. For a start, Team Tiger's management of this crisis has been disastrous. Control should have been taken of the situation weeks ago. By going to ground, Woods has become the celebrity equivalent of 'America's Most Wanted'.
Outside of Elin, his family and friends, Tiger has absolutely no duty to apologise or to explain himself to any of us. Yet by fronting-up in an honest, unscripted, no-holds-barred TV interview, he'd defuse the ticking media time bomb which this story has become.
A tearful half hour on the sofa with Oprah Winfrey won't suffice. Woods must take charge of this situation by publicly accepting responsibility for his actions, warts and all. He doesn't need to seek forgiveness. Indeed, the thought of one of the greatest sporting champions in history grovelling for sympathy is repulsive.
It's going to be tough but Tiger won't be ready to compete with all his old regal pomp, arrogance and flair on the golf course until he's able to look the world square in the eye and say: "Yeah, I was wrong. I messed up. It happens. What's it to you?"
If he's angry, shout it out, loud. Defiance beats cowed, sullen silence every time.
Wouldn't it be great if Woods gave all his faithful sponsors, even Phil Knight at Nike, a break and turned up for his first tournament with no badges, trademarks or logos on his hat, shirt or bag. If he went out there as Tiger, plain and simple, the man in black or Sunday red, and just let his golf do the talking.
If he cut out all those inane, parrot-style, pre-tournament press conferences. If he dropped all that 'PC' nonsense and ignored the corporate image-builders who created the bright shining lie of Tiger Woods, social icon, in the first place. If it's in his nature to be as remote as Ben Hogan, then so be it.
Of course, the spitting, cussing and club throwing will cease -- officialdom won't be cowed into turning a blind eye to those transgressions anymore. Heaven knows, Woods might even sign a few more autographs but only, one hopes, if he feels like it. And there's the rub. Let Woods be honest to himself.
In Tiger's absence, elite professional golf seems bereft right now of players with enough class and authority to take tournaments by the scruff of the neck. The AT&T National Pro-Am came to such a surreal climax at Pebble Beach on Sunday, it might have been scripted by Samuel Beckett himself. Paul Goydos and Dustin Johnson might have been Vladimir and Estragon as they waited on the fairway at 14 discussing the misfortune of fellow-American Bryce Molder, who at that point was staggering to a catastrophic quadruple-bogey nine on the green ahead.
"If you go for it and don't hit a good shot in, you'll be in real trouble," Goydos agreed with Johnson at one point. Given the circumstances, it was an astonishing exchange. Would Tiger ever mull over tactics with his closest rival during the back nine on tournament Sunday?
That little chat became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Goydos. Leading Johnson by one after a birdie on 13, the Californian's prospects of a third PGA Tour victory were destroyed as he followed Molder's nine with one of his own.
Just short of the green in three, he watched in horror as his chip rolled through the green and down the steep bank on the left. It took him two more strokes to get back to the putting surface, followed by a nightmarish three-putt. His victory prospects wrecked, Goydos (45) finished in a tie for fifth.
Named recently by Corey Pavin as one of his Ryder Cup vice-captains because he's "unconventional", Goydos certainly lived up to that billing. It's the second time this year he's scored nine on Sunday at a PGA Tour event but last weekend's effort will earn pride of place in sports psychology text books.
Not that Johnson covered himself with much glory either. One ahead with four to play, he wobbled badly in the closing stages, allowing himself fall back into a tie on 15-under with clubhouse leaders JB Holmes and the reborn David Duval with a slipshod bogey out of a greenside bunker at 17.
Not that Holmes or Duval made much of an effort to seize the day at 18, both finishing out with tame par fives. So Johnson needed birdie at that final hole to win and, to his credit, the 25-year-old did it, getting up and down from the sand to become only the fifth player to retain the National Pro-Am title at Pebble Beach.
He shares that feat with Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Mark O'Meara, while Johnson is the first player since Woods to win in each of his first three seasons on the PGA Tour. Yet he ain't no Tiger!
At least we can expect some relief from the drudgery at this week's Accenture Match Play in Tucson, where Padraig Harrington has been drawn with Jeev Milkha Singh, Rory McIlroy meets Kevin Na and Graeme McDowell takes on his former Walker Cup comrade Luke Donald in tomorrow's first round.
McIlroy and McDowell are slated to meet in the third round and, all going well for the Irish, the winner will cross swords with Harrington in Saturday's semi-final.