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Tiger back in the hunt

TIGER WOODS has found the perfect tournament and venue for his return to competitive golf in March -- the Tavistock Cup -- which will be played this year in his own back yard at the exclusive Isleworth Resort near Orlando.

Woods hasn't been seen in public since Thanksgiving night late last November, when he crashed his car into a tree within yards of his home at Isleworth in Windemere, Florida.

The resort was then placed under siege by the world's media as more than a dozen females came forward with kiss-and-tell tales of the Tiger, who subsequently admitted infidelity as he announced an "indefinite hiatus" from golf.

Yet the privacy of Isleworth's rich and famous residents was not compromised. Only home owners, many of them world-famous golfers, and invited guests are allowed set foot on this private estate, even when it hosts the Tavistock Cup match with Lake Nona Resort every two years.

Played between two 10-man teams made of top-class professional golfers, this annual charity fundraiser is broadcast live in on the Golf Channel in the US and Sky on this side of the Atlantic.

Yet, on the evidence of last year's match at Lake Nona, in which Graeme McDowell played on the winning home team and Darren Clarke joined Tiger in the Isleworth line-up, the Tavistock Cup is a distinctly laid-back occasion.

Usually attended by a few thousand people, all of them residents of both Orlando resorts or their friends or relatives, the atmosphere is so relaxed, spectators walk the fairways within touching distance of the players.

It offers Tiger an ideal opportunity to break the ice with many Tour colleagues, who haven't seen the world No 1 since his private life erupted in controversy.

The Tavistock Cup takes place this year on March 22 and 23, the Monday and Tuesday before Arnold Palmer's Invitational at Bay Hill, where defending champion Woods is then expected to get his game in shape for the first Major of the season, the US Masters at Augusta National, a fortnight later.

Geoff Ogilvy, Australia's world No 9, yesterday urged Woods, in the interests of his fellow professionals, to make a public appearance, possibly on TV, before playing a tournament.

"It's hard to play with Tiger anyway with all of the craziness that goes on. You get used to it but that first week he comes back, it's going to be a circus," said Ogilvy, just one of five players from the world's top-10 competing in this week's Abu Dhabi Championship.

"I think he should actually come out and talk in public beforehand and not at a golf tournament," Ogilvy went on. "I think he should do it away from the golf course out of respect for all the other players and to defuse the circus part of it before he actually gets to a golf tournament.


"I just think it'd be best for Tiger, for every other player and for the first tournament he plays in. It'd still be big and crazy when he came out to a golf tournament but the tabloid edge might be gone.

"If he doesn't show in public until he gets to a golf tournament, I suppose it is going to be crazy. The first (media) conference he does is going to be the crazy one. A lot of people who've been afraid to ask questions for 10 or 12 years won't be as hesitant as they used be, and he's going to have to answer."

In Ogilvy's view, Tiger would face "the least amount of circus" if the Masters was his first tournament, explaining: "That would be the most controlled environment he could be in. But if he truly, truly wants to win at Augusta, he's going to want to play before then."

In fact, Isleworth will offer a far more secure and familiar setting for Woods, who has lived on the property for much of his professional career, while the hosts will be able to keep a far tighter rein on the media presence.

Insisting he didn't know which tournament would be Tiger's first to play, Ogilvy went on: "Most guys are just wondering where he is. Everyone probably has a different opinion about what's being going on but we all want him back. Golf tournaments are more enjoyable when he's there.

"It's not a hollow victory if you win when he's not there but it's a lot better when he is. At age 34, he's still the best player ever up to this point in his career and it's still better to have him around. Right now, the guys are just curious. Everyone wants the full scoop of where he is."

Asked what question he'd like to ask Tiger, Ogilvy said: "What were you thinking? I'm just amazed that nobody out here knew. Everyone thought he just left the golf course and went to his hotel. I didn't even know he went out.

"How did nobody know? After all, Tiger Woods is quite recognisable."

Irish Independent