World awaits Woods return

Reuters - Thu, 18 Feb 01:28:00 2010

Now that Tiger Woods has set the scene for his first public appearance since his private life spectacularly unravelled in December, the golfing world is likely to learn when he will return to competition.

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The American world number one, in hiding since admitting he cheated on his Swedish wife Elin, will address a small gathering of reporters in Florida on Friday.

According to his manager, Woods will apologise for his past behaviour and discuss his plans for the future in a tightly controlled event.

The 14-time Major champion, who has taken an indefinite break from the game since his stunning fall from grace, will not answer questions. The meeting will be televised.

For many critics, Woods is making the right move by appearing publicly before he returns to competition on the US PGA Tour. Others believe he could have done better to appear in a television interview.

"Oprah (Winfrey) and ESPN would be two great forums for him," communications specialist Michael Gordon told Reuters.

"Either way, he needs to speak publicly, be honest and apologise.

"By doing that, he can regain some of the control he's lost over his public image," said Gordon, chief executive of Group Gordon Strategic Communications in New York.

Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University, said it was important Woods return to competition as soon as possible.

"He has got to get back and play golf or else he truly would be in breach of the contracts that he's held on to," Boland told Reuters.

"A prolonged absence from the tour would really give them a reason to dump contracts with him."

Woods, one of the most marketable figures in sport, was estimated to be earning about $100 million a year in endorsement deals before his adultery scandal led AT&T and Accenture to drop him as a spokesman.

He has been retained by other sponsors, although they have stopped using him as heavily in advertising.

For most fans, officials, sponsors and also the players, the return of Woods to competition cannot come soon enough.

The 34-year-old American is one of the world's most recognisable athletes and biggest drawcards, and he drives up television ratings by around 50 per cent whenever he competes.

"The thing he's lost most is his sense of control, which was very powerful and helped him tremendously as a golfer," Boland said. "It really hurt him in this situation.

"The biggest thing for him is to get back on the Tour and play golf again and turn this into a footnote in his biography as opposed to the one thing that lingers."

Open champion Stewart Cink represented the view of many of Woods's peers during Wednesday's opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Marana, Arizona.

"It's encouraging that he's coming back to at least be seen by the public, and the rest of us, too," Cink said.

"It will be good to see Tiger's face again, and see that he's actually out there somewhere. I think this is maybe the beginning of the comeback process for him."

Woods is almost certain to disclose the timing of his US Tour return on Friday, thereby ending the speculation which has heightened considerably in recent weeks.

Any of three tournaments appear likely - the March 11-14 WGC-CA Championship at Doral, the March 25-28 Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando or the April 8-11 U.S. Masters, the opening Major of the year.

Majors have been the driving force of Woods's career and ideally he would want to have at least one US Tour event under his belt before he tees off at Augusta National in pursuit of a fifth green jacket.

For that reason alone, a Tiger return in his home state of Florida at either Doral or Orlando would be a good bet.

Reuters

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