Woods can pick his spot for return _ or not

Dec 30, 2009 - 9:03 AM By JIM LITKE AP Sports Columnist

Golf Digest's annual assessment of the state of Tiger Woods is a must-read every year, but never moreso than at the end of the most eventful year of his life.

Drawing on dozens of conversations with Woods and his parents beginning in 1990, writer Jaime Diaz limns a family dynamic that in hindsight makes Tiger's fall from grace seem almost inevitable.

"For one, he was clearly the only source of his parents' happiness in an otherwise uneasy marriage. ... Woods was brought up with the idea that a player, especially one with aspirations for greatness, is entitled to be selfish. He never had a job or even many chores, so he could devote himself to schoolwork, golf and occasional diversions. 'To live a sane life,"' Diaz recalled Woods saying in 2000, "'I have to be ruthless sometimes."'

Read the entire article, but time and space considerations require a quick cut to the conclusion. Suffice it to say Diaz expects the golfer will return more ruthless than ever. "Being Woods," he wrote, "he will be determined to keep the gleeful haters from getting satisfaction."

Few people know where Woods is at the moment - various reports placed him in Florida, Arizona, on a plane to Sweden and a boat to the Bahamas - and even fewer know whether he will even be back for the 2010 season. But interviews with a handful of tournament directors turned up plenty of recommendations for when and where Woods could begin the long road back.

"Anyone who tells you they wouldn't want to be the first," said Eddie Carbone, who's in charge of the CA Championship at Doral in Florida, "has to be lying."

"If we happened to be his choice, I guarantee we'd find a way to fill everybody's needs," said Kym Hougham, who runs the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C. "In that case, nothing would seem like an undue burden."

Woods has increasingly focused on his sport's four major championships and if he hasn't shown up by the Masters in early April, all bets are off.

Surpassing Jack Nicklaus' career record of 18 major wins has been a lifelong goal and Woods has 14 already; but winning a Grand Slam, all four majors in a calendar year, doesn't rank far behind. Woods has already won a U.S. and British Open at the site of next year's tournaments, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, respectively, though he wound up tied for 24th the only other time the PGA Championship was held at Whistling Straits, back in 2004.

Of course, starting the season off with a major is hardly recommended. Before the car crash and serialized scandal that followed in its wake, many expected Woods to make his 2010 debut in the San Diego Open at Torrey Pines at the end of January.

"We'd certainly welcome him with open arms," director Tom Wilson said. "He's had a profound effect on our event and he likes the golf course. He played 11 straight times before the knee sidelined him (in 2009), won six times and never finished out of the top 10.

"We usually get 150-200 media requests, but we handled four times that number when the U.S. Open was here. And we've always had a security plan just for him in place," he added, "so I wouldn't anticipate reinventing the wheel."

If Woods wants to avoid most of the U.S. media, he could wait a week and return at the Dubai Desert Classic. It's expensive to cover and played during Super Bowl weekend. The tournament directors, though, pegged the CA Championship in mid-March or the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla., later that month as more timely and convenient stops for Woods to sharpen his competitive game ahead of the Masters.

"Bay Hill is almost a home game for him," Carbone said. "His return probably has more to do with the family situation than anything else and from that standpoint, it might be the easiest to manage. ... But a lot could depend on whether he holds a news conference first."

"My guess is Doral," said John Kaczkowski, tournament director for the BMW Championship. "There's no pro-am event, it's just two weeks before the Masters and he's always been about preparing for the majors.

"But like I said, that's just a total guess. We're in uncharted waters here. Nobody but him knows what's going to happen next."

Despite that, and even if Woods skips the early season tune up and remains in hiding, nearly all the directors interviewed said they expected him to play at Augusta.

"That's the most locked-down event there is," Hougham said. "They can control access, they do a pretty good job handling the media, and the patrons are probably the most courteous and respectful around."

Masters spokesman Steve Ethun, however, declined to say whether the club's green-jacketed directors were doing any contingency planning should Woods choose Augusta for his debut.

"We know as much as you do right now," he said. "We have Tiger's statement saying he's taken an 'indefinite leave' and we're not going to speculate on when he returns and where."

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org






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