Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Ho, ho, ho. But enough about Tiger's lady friends. We are pleased to be joined by Geoff Shackelford, whose eponymous website has been a must-read throughout the Woods saga. We now know Tiger's officially the player of the year and the athlete of the decade. But we don't know when he's going to show up on Tour again. When do you all expect Tiger to return, and how he will he play when he does?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Agreed. Augusta has a strict policy for getting credentials that will keep out the US Weekly/National Enquirer types, plus a lower yahoo factor among the "patrons."
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: That champions dinner would be something else, wouldn't it? But I say Bay Hill, T4 finish.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Like your thinking, Alan. But Tiger only needed the sabbatical if he was going to prove something to Elin or his family, to make a sacrifice. If he's just going to get divorced in some expensive payoff package, the sabbatical can be a lot shorter. Nothing to prove. Time to start making that $300 million back.
Morfit: I think one important point to make is that even if his marriage is over, he's still got work to do in terms of sorting himself out. He's got to be rethinking why he ever got married in the first place, the primacy of his golf and just what it's going to take to make him happy. I always thought he was a reasonably happy guy, but now I wonder.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: If Elin and the kids leave Tiger for Sweden after Christmas, as People Magazine is reporting, then Tiger could be back far sooner than we might have thought. Maybe for the Match Play (with his ex-sponsor Accenture as the title sponsor). If she and the kids don't leave, and they're trying to save the marriage, he could miss the Masters and maybe come back for The Players and a run at the U.S Open.
Van Sickle: Accenture dropped Tiger and he doesn't care for desert golf. I could see him crossing the Match Play off his list permanently, or until Accenture reinstates him.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Tiger will return for Arnie's tournament (March 25-28) just in time to get ready for the Masters in early April. As much as he will want to put off the perp walk in front the media, a healthy Tiger Woods will not miss a major championship. And when he does tee it up at Bay Hill, there is no reason to think he won't win. His ego and his reputation have been hurt, but I think he can still play a little golf.
Morfit: Agree with Dave. If Elin walks, there's not so much for him to work on in his personal life, and it seems like he'd be happy to think about golf.
Van Sickle: Tiger has a familiarity level with Bay Hill. The course, the entrances, the exits. It's in his 'hood. I'll say Bay Hill, and he wins. That's right, he wins!
Shipnuck: For Geoff and every other muckraker here, will the blurring of the tabloids and mainstream press change how we all cover golf, and Tiger, going forward?
Geoff Shackelford: Nice of you guys to bring me in only when golf is mired in boondoggles. First Liberty National and now Tiger Woods. Of course this will change things, for the better in my view. The golf media has been called out and will continue to be heckled, even though this is a story that no one could have unearthed without spending an inordinate amount of time talking to reality show wannabes. But as unseemly as this has been, the story has taken golf mainstream, and I no longer see people cringe when I tell them I work in golf. It's as if the entire elitist mystique has been lifted and people have welcomed us to the real world. Granted, it's not the way I would have liked to see golf go mainstream, but I don't see this being the disaster that some do.
Van Sickle: Interesting stuff, but I don't see golf staying mainstream. Just Tiger.
Dusek: I agree. Tiger was a celebrity before this happened, so the tabloids had an interest. Tiger is the only golfer who could have moved the needle like this.
Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Yes, this changes everything. Maybe not among the longtime golf media, but suddenly the nongolf media will be out in force, as it is in other sports.
Herre: I think it will, to a degree. I see the media being a little more aggressive, a little less chummy. Also, I think the Woods scandal has been an eye-opener for the gossip sites. I can report here that TMZsports.com will be launched late next month.
Morfit: It won't change a thing about the coverage. What are we going to do now, ask him to go over birdies, bogeys and the musical tastes of Babe No. 4 vs. Babe No. 7? It will change everything about his brand and how well he monetizes it.
Evans: I think the golf press will probably have to take it up a notch in the same way that the business media has after bad whiffs on Enron, WorldCom, Madoff, derivatives and just about everything that went wrong with the economy over the last three years.
Van Sickle: Not sure the media is going to change that much. The tabs may follow Tiger off the course for a while until they get bored. Mainstream media isn't going to take up that chase, I don't think. And let's face it, who else is interesting enough for the tabs to write about? A scandal with Nick Watney just wouldn't have any national legs. Tiger will have to deal with paparazzi for a while, maybe forever. Don't think golf writers are going to go there. It'll be business as usual.
Shackelford : The tabs will lose interest when Tiger puts an end to the condescending lectures on privacy and the pleas for secrecy. That's the main reason this story won't go away. He put out a silly story about the accident, then spent his first two statements essentially taunting the tabloids. His continued silence and disappearing act is only causing more intrigue by the day.
Van Sickle: Has anybody gotten worse PR advice? Tiger's big problem is still going to be women. Let's say a divorce is quickly drawn up and finalized. The tabs will stalk Tiger to see which of his alleged babes he runs to, if any, or which new one he pursues. As an eligible bachelor, he's going to remain a hot ticket for the paparazzi.
Friedman: The Post and other outlets are just feeding demand. I've never seen a larger demographic cross-section so interested in a story.
Morfit: I agree that he's handled this miserably. You can see everyone enjoying a few days worth of whacking the Tiger pinata and watching the mistresses come tumbling out, but three weeks plus? The real story is how this thing got so out of control, and how Tiger/IMG let it get away from them.
Shipnuck: I remember at Turnberry, after Woods missed the cut, a few of us were sitting in the press room discussing the various rumors we'd heard about Tiger and Elin having a big blowup that week and whether or not that played a role in his poor play. It was out there, but no one asked Tiger a question about it before he fled. In the future, I'm sure someone will ask the question.
Shipnuck: OK, let's do a little rumor-mongering: where is Tiger this minute and what is he doing? All guesses are welcome.
Herre: Rehab for sex addiction.
Shipnuck: I read somewhere that Tiger has been on the front cover of the NY Post more days in a row than 9/11. Mind-boggling that no one has laid eyes on him since the accident. Is it possible he hasn't left his house in Isleworth this whole time? If so, he must be going batty.