The Tiger Woods guessing game is shifting into second gear. One golf writer recently criticized John Daly for being "the last person who still thinks Tiger is going to play at Bay Hill." When Woods was in rehab, it seemed highly unlikely that he'd play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational later this month.
Now the tide has turned, and Daly has never looked smarter. (Please, no snide remarks.) Woods is out of rehab and working hard on his game. Hank Gola reported in the New York Daily News that Woods and coach Hank Haney have been working together since Sunday on the range at Tiger's home course, Isleworth, near Orlando, which "would indicate that the embattled golfer is on course to play the Masters, a major he has won four times."
Gola speculated further that Bay Hill, and the made-for-TV Tavistock Cup, to be held at Isleworth, would serve as likely tuneups for Woods. Nothing new there, but given Tiger's activity, it's suddenly looking more likely by the day. Tiger hinted at a long-term hiatus from golf during his carefully choreographed media statement last month, but he may be back in a matter of weeks.
Another reason why Tiger may play the Tavistock Cup? It's run by International Management Group, which represents Tiger. The scandal cost Tiger millions in endorsements, along with IMG's percentage. It would be more surprising if Tiger didn't play and support his corporate event than if he did.
Steve Elling of CBSSports.com added a few more bits of kindling to the fire, reporting that Woods spent much of last week on the Isleworth range. He was sporting the beginning of a new mustache and talking on his cell phone between shots. His conclusions on the Tiger sightings:
First, that he's preparing for a return,
perhaps as early as this month. Second, that he has his cell phone
back. Want to bet that his carrier isn't AT&T?
Whatever we might
think of what Woods has done, and he has plenty of issues to sort
through privately and publicly, the last part of the puzzle is when he
will next play, and it appears it will be sooner rather than later.
Woods was on the Isleworth course all weekend, playing.
By the way,
officials with the Tavistock Cup, which begins in two weeks at his home
club, have received hundreds of media credential requests. The timing
of that two-day event still makes the most sense as far as the comeback
launch point, because of its small and insular nature. Paranoia is
raging already, and it's wearing thin among club residents. Woods is
using a private security staff that is phoning in the license plate
numbers to club authorities of vehicles that circle past his house or
the driving range when he is practicing. Small wonder that some
Isleworth residents, fully aware that he put the club on the global map
when he moved there in 1996, are counting down the days until he moves
to South Florida.
In other speculation, Gola noted that Haney has reportedly rented a house for Masters week, something he might do even if Woods wasn't playing. Gola also wondered about caddie Steve Williams and his job security after giving an interview to a New Zealand TV station about his view of Tiger's scandal.
Williams said on the
telecast that he was angry at Woods over the scandal and would have
spoken up had he been privy to Woods' extramarital transgressions. Woods
has never approved of his inner circle getting too chatty. His first
caddie, Mike (Fluff) Cowan, was fired when he began to get too much
media attention. But it would be hard to see Woods making a comeback
with someone other than Williams on the bag, as the two have grown
extremely close over the years.