Tiger to tell all and hog spotlight
TIGER WOODS will make his first public appearance in two and a half months tomorrow when he goes in front of The Golf Channel's TV cameras at the headquarters of the USPGA Tour in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Initially billed as a press conference, it emerged last night that Woods will speak to "a small group of friends, colleagues and close associates at 11.0 (4.0pm Irish time)."
A statement issued by his agent, Mark Steinberg of International Management Group, explained "Tiger plans to discuss his past and future and intends to apologise for his behaviour."
Though a pool of reporters might be allowed watch the live TV feed in a room on the property, no questions will be entertained, ensuring, in media terms, an easy ride for the disgraced World No 1.
Yet last night's disclosure that Woods is ready to face the world for the first time since that fateful November 27 car crash outside his home in Isleworth, Orlando, is intended as the initial step in his return to the fold in world golf.
Tiger's conference will completely overshadow tomorrow's third round of the Accenture Match Play World Championship of Golf.
While Woods is unlikely to be bothered by this affront to a sponsor who pulled the plug on him, it's surprising that the PGA Tour would facilitate such a striking clash with one of the showpieces of the year in professional golf.
Even last night's announcement knocked the opening round of the Match Play right out of the limelight.
Rory McIlroy clearly was wrong-footed when the first question asked by reporters, after the 20-year-old's phenomenal fightback for victory against Kevin Na, concerned Tiger.
When pressed on the timing of Tiger's conference, McIlroy blurted out what most people were thinking. "I suppose he wanted to get something back at the sponsors who dropped him."
The Holywood youngster then added in obvious exasperation: "To be honest, I'm sick of all of this (speculation about Tiger's future). As far as I am concerned, the sooner he gets back playing, the better."
In recent weeks, several of Tiger's fellow professionals, from Geoff Ogilvy, defending champion at this week's Accenture Match Play, to senior statesman Tom Watson, urged him to front-up in public before teeing-up at a tournament.
Last night's development clearly indicates that Woods is determined to play the first Major of the season, April's US Masters, which almost certainly will be preceded by a warm-up appearance on Tour.
The first feasible opportunity could be the CA World Championship of Golf at Doral from March 11-14. However, Tiger's more likely to first break the ice with Tour colleagues at the unofficial Tavistock Cup in front of a select private audience at the Isleworth Estate on March 22 and 23.
He is then expected to defend his title at the Arnie Palmer Invitation the following weekend at Bay Hill.
Ireland's only survivor on Dove Mountain after Padraig Harrington fell 3&1 against Jeev Milkha Singh and Graeme McDowell was eliminated 2&1 by Luke Donald, McIlroy was four down after just six holes having made a disastrous start against Na.
When his South Korea-born opponent chipped in from 15 yards for a winning birdie at that sixth hole, it really looked as if the golfing gods were against McIlroy and he confessed: "You always try to look at the positives in golf -- I was looking forward to the prospect of getting home in time to see Ulster play at Ravenhill on Friday."
Yet after Na handed one back at seven, where he missed a four-foot putt for par, McIlroy boosted his flagging hopes by sinking a splendid 24-foot putt for eagle at eight, followed in quick succession by birdies at nine and 10 to get within one of his opponent. A duffed chip in greenside rough at 11 appeared to hand the initiative back to Na, but a superb drive at 15 really turned the screw on his opponent, who drove into the desert.
McIlroy won three of the final four holes yesterday, applying the coup de grace to Na with a par at the last. He faces England's Ryder Cup performer Oliver Wilson today and said: "I'll need to play a lot better."
After a birdie at the short third gave Harrington the early advantage, he failed to convert a series of opportunities on the front nine. Singh, who won the fifth in par to draw level, took full advantage of an ugly three-putt bogey six by the Dubliner on 13.
"This tournament comes too early in the year for me," sighed Harrington, who has played just twice, in Los Angeles and Pebble Beach last weekend, since his long winter break.
"I didn't have the sharpness in my short game when I needed it."
Accenture World Match Play,
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