TIGER'S RETURN TO GOLF
Tiger Woods announces his comeback and plans to return to competitive golf at the Masters
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Since his marital indiscretions became part of the daily public discourse, Tiger Woods has lived his life in something of a cocoon, speaking publicly just once even as his formerly impeccable image crumbled around him. When he returns to competitive golf next month -- a move he announced Tuesday -- he will do so in the most comfortable cocoon golf can provide, the Masters. Tournament organizers at Georgia's staid and genteel Augusta National Golf Club meticulously keep tabs on who gets in, who is kept out, and what is said publicly about their venue, their event and their players.
Woods will make the Masters, which begins April 8, the stage for his first professional appearance since a Thanksgiving-night car accident led to revelations of apparently rampant infidelity and, eventually, a self-imposed exile. In doing so, he simultaneously injected life back into the PGA Tour, which has been without the world's best and most recognizable player; introduced expectations for record television ratings; and took the next step in what is likely to be a prolonged public rehabilitation.
"The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect," Woods said in a statement released on his Web site. "After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta.
"The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even thought it's been a while since I last played."
Woods's last event concluded Nov. 15, when he won the JBWere Masters in Melbourne, Australia. Since Dec. 11, when he admitted to his infidelity -- with each dalliance documented by tabloids and celebrity magazines -- Woods has appeared in public only on Feb. 19, when he delivered a 13 1/2 -minute statement that was carried live on the major broadcast networks and cable outlets. Though he apologized repeatedly for his behavior, he also made it clear he yearned for privacy for his family, which includes his wife, Elin, and two young children. He took no questions.
"I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment," Woods, 34, said in Tuesday's statement. "Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life."
Augusta National revels in privacy. Officials from the club control what fans and media have access to the Masters, which is one of the toughest tickets in sports.
Woods, who has won the Masters four times, might have benefited competitively from playing at an event such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament to be staged March 25-28 in Orlando, near Woods's home in Windermere, Fla., that he has won six times. But when Woods's return appeared imminent -- he has been seen practicing for the past month at his home course -- officials for that event were inundated with media requests, including several from the broadcast networks and magazines, such as Time and People, that don't typically cover golf. Those issues will be non-factors at the Masters.
"There's no way those people who run this tournament want to make this into a circus, and they really don't care," said Robert Tuchman, the executive vice president of Premiere Global Sports, a New York-based sports marketing firm. "They don't need the sponsor dollars. They don't need the media attention. He's going to be assured that those kinds of people will not be there. This really is an ideal place to come back and play, because playing is the last thing he's worried about at this point."
As veteran professional Rocco Mediate said Tuesday on the Golf Channel: "Augusta is the safest place to come back. It'll be the most controlled place to come back."
The Masters, typically the golf event that draws the highest television ratings, could set new marks with Woods's return. Woods's most memorable triumphs -- the 1997 Masters, his first major; the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in which he set a record for margin of victory; his 2008 win at the U.S. Open in which he won a playoff at Torrey Pines despite debilitating leg and knee injuries -- have been television landmarks as well.
Tuesday, John Wildhack, the executive vice president of programming and acquisitions for ESPN, which broadcasts the first two rounds of the Masters, said in a statement that the tournament "will surely be one of the biggest stories the sporting world has seen." Last week, in remarks to SI.com, CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus, whose network carries the final two rounds of the event, said Woods's return "will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years."