Due to the Tiger Woods drama, PGA Tour Confidential is coming out of hibernation again for a special edition. Confidential will return in 2010. For an archive of the series, go here.
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.
Shipnuck: Love the specificity, Damon. I’m gonna say the sabbatical is a little hollow unless he skips the Masters. I’m gonna say the Memorial, as a tuneup to Pebble.
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.
Van Sickle: You’ve got to give him credit for outflanking the paparazzi, no small feat, and remaining at large. Tiger is the new Waldo.
Evans: I hear he’s on his yacht, Privacy.
Van Sickle: Phoenix area writer Bill Huffman tweeted a few days ago about rumors that Tiger was coming to a sex rehab facility out there, and the air was already filled with media-rented helicopters.
Shackelford: If I were handling Tiger’s crisis management and I knew he was in rehab, I’d make sure the world knew too. It can only help his image at this point. But so far they’ve done the opposite of conventional thinking and it’s been an utter disaster.
Van Sickle: I don’t think Tiger is in rehab. I don’t see him thinking he has a problem, other than a PR problem.
Morfit: Disagree. I’ll bet Elin has impressed upon him that he does indeed have more than a PR problem.
Evans: Why can’t Tiger just be a lying, cheating dog? Perhaps we’re overthinking this. He has an age-old struggle with the flesh. He’ll struggle with that until he dies.
Morfit: Jackson Hole. Skiing by day; trying to save marriage by night.
Van Sickle: He is currently in a submarine plotting a course for an ocean rendezvous with Privacy, which is about to leave port with at least one special passenger. Or he’s at his new Jupiter place working out in the gym and ordering Chinese food.
Shipnuck: Jeez, I remember when the big question about Tiger heading into 2010 was whether or not he could win the Grand Slam. Let’s say he does come back some time in the spring, giving himself enough time to get his game in shape for a summer that includes Pebble, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits. Does he win a major?
Morfit: He’s got to win either Pebble or St. Andrews. No way he gets skunked. But he ain’t winning by more than one or two shots.
Shackelford: No majors in 2010 for Tiger. The aura that was already severely damaged in 2009 will take a long time to restore, and it may never be what it was.
Herre: Frankly, I’m more interested in who he’ll bring to the Ryder Cup.
Morfit: No one. Or Kultida.
Shipnuck: I say his first win back is at the Old Course, and the Scots go absolutely crazy for him.
Shackelford: I’m sorry, I don’t see anyone going crazy for Tiger for some time. He’s a national joke. Even his Sunday red shirt has become fodder.
Shipnuck: He’s a joke now, but getting back on the golf course will allow him to change the narrative. The only thing people love more than tearing down their idols is watching the ensuing comebacks. I saw a poll somewhere in which around 20 percent of respondents said they’d root for Tiger MORE in the future. A flawed human is more compelling than a robot.
Friedman: Yeah, and along those lines, I want to posit a silver-lining/best-case-scenario for the Tour. It is this: In the early part of the year, someone — Rory or the rejuvenated Lefty or, dare I say, Sergio — comes out hot and captivates the public. Now, let’s also say that Woods at least partially rehabilitates his image. When he returns, the game will have had a running start, and Tiger could give it a turbo boost. Again, this is very best case.
Morfit: I agree that there are enough compelling figures other than Tiger for 2010 to get off to a big start, if all the stars align: Rory, Phil, Anthony Kim, Jason Day, Ryo Ishikawa, Rickie Fowler. Not to do Finchem’s job for him, but there are a lot of good players out there.
Hack: Great players, all of ’em. Not a one moving the needle like Tiger.
Morfit: Damon, I’m not sure that’s going to be true anymore. Tiger was always 1 and Phil 1A, but now …
Hack: Phil may be 1A (or even 1), but he isn’t going to attract the eyeballs or the dollars. Only one can be Gladys Knight. The rest are just Pips.
Van Sickle: Once a tournament starts, golf happens. Leaders happen. Shotmaking happens. Who isn’t there is forgotten until Sunday night. We saw it when Harrington won two pretty exciting Tiger-less majors, and the only people complaining were those interested only in Tiger, not golf. The long-term economic ramifications of his absence on sponsors and TV are more serious, however. This may speed the push for the major networks to off-load more tournaments to Golf Channel and just keep a few of the cherries — the majors, WGC events, etc.
Dusek: The best part about Tiger’s game was always his mental toughness. How do you go through something like this and remain the same emotionally? I think he wins a few PGA Tour events and one major, it everything falls perfectly into place. I can’t see him winning two.
Evans: He wins every tournament he plays in. There is no reason to believe that a guy who was so successful carrying the burden of being a serial philanderer can’t play great golf now that he’s been freed of the guilt and stress of managing all those women. This could be the most emancipating moment of his life.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I don’t think Tiger will feel emancipated. He’s a man of inordinate pride and self-regard, and now he’s become the focus of world-wide derision and ridicule. I think we haven’t seen him anywhere because the humiliation is too much to bear.
Morfit: I love that way of looking at it, Farrell. This could help Tiger let down his guard and turn into an actual human being, and that would be great for everyone. There’s always been a huge disconnect with Woods in that he’s such a reluctant public figure. Maybe if he realizes it’s okay to be less than perfect, he’ll spend less time and energy pleading for privacy. This guy is WAY overdue to give up the image of titanium-clad perfection, and finally giving it up would take a lot of pressure off him.
Shipnuck: Right. Living a lie for so many years must have been exhausting. If all that energy can now be focused on golf, look out.
Shackelford: I agree with Farrell’s take, but this thing has snowballed. He’s become a laughingstock and doesn’t have the same legion of corporate backers, and I don’t see him taking that very well. The good news for fans: with every sponsor that drops him, he needs to play more events to pad the bank account.
Hack: I wonder if he’ll have the same guys around him — Steiny, Stevie, M.J., Charles — or does he completely clean house?
Garrity: I think it’s IMG that needs to clean house. The guy handling their most profitable account let him self-destruct.
Shipnuck: It all depends on Elin. If she stays, they go.
Shackelford: How can Mark Steinberg stay on? Especially if he introduced Tiger to Dr. Galea. Does anyone know what happened to Greg Nared, former Team Tiger guy and Michelle Wie agent? He might be a suitable replacement to take charge and guide the rebuilding of Tiger’s life and career.
Hack: Greg Nared started his own PR firm. Works with several athletes, including some LPGAers.
Morfit: Very interesting to hear that Woods is not talking to Barkley and has changed his cell number to go on complete radio silence. It has to be crazy-intriguing for other agents to think what would happen if Tiger cleaned house. Those guys get paid for generating deals, and there will be plenty of deals to generate when the clouds part. Accenture is out, but isn’t that just an opening for KPMG or some other brand? If Tag bails completely, isn’t Rolex suddenly in the ballgame?
Shipnuck: OK, let’s do something really crazy and move on from Tiger for a few minutes. This is the last Confidential before the new year, so who or what are you guys most excited about looking ahead to 2010? I, personally, can’t wait to watch guys jacking their shots from the rough 20 yards over the green thanks to the new grooves.
Morfit: I’m interested to see if Phil can maintain his hot putting and end-of-year win streak.
Herre: I’m with Cam. Mickelson found something real at the end of this year. He’s never really had a monster year — 2010 could be it.
Friedman: Yes, can Lefty keep it going? If he does, the fandom will be jazzed.
Van Sickle: Phil is the obvious choice. But there was never a better time for someone else to break out. Nick Watney? A renewed emphasis on scoring and accuracy over power could play right into the hands of someone like Rickie Fowler, great with the wedge and putter, and fearless. Really like him, his personality and his attitude. All that and he seems pretty grounded.
Shipnuck: I’m also very interested to see who emerges as No. 3. It’s wide open. Rory Mac, Paul Casey, Paddy, AK, Sergio… there’s a bunch of candidates but all of them have to go to another level.
Van Sickle: Tiger’s troubles should be a call to action for Sergio Garcia. There may be an opening at the top, and Sergio has been missing in action. Although as our Anonymous Pro said at year-end, it’s tough to come back from putting problems.
Morfit: Seems like Stricker has done plenty lately to be in that conversation, at least.
Shackelford: No. 3 will be nice and all, but let’s not forget it’s a Ryder Cup year and Monty is at the helm. The potential for drama, intrigue and general buffoonery has never been greater. And that’s before the first matches.
Shipnuck: Yes, thank god the Ryder Cup will keep Monty in various pressrooms. He’s already said some pretty raw things about Tiger. His running commentary this year should be juicy.
Morfit: I look for Zach Johnson to have a big year. He won twice this year while moving into a new house, which is a major distraction. The guy is just too good to stop now. He may repeat at the Sony. And one guy we haven’t mentioned, because hardly anybody’s heard of him: Troy Merritt, the Idahoan who just won Q school. A senior pro told me recently he’d never played with a more fearless putter.
Shipnuck: Phil was already poised for a monster year. With Tiger not around, can he emerge as the game’s dominant player? It will be fascinating to see how he reacts to a void at the top. I think he has a huge West Coast swing and then takes the Masters, setting up plenty of intrigue should Tiger reappear at that point in the season.
Morfit: I’d love to see Phil tee it up earlier than usual, like in Hawaii, just to make a statement. Won’t happen, though.
Shackelford: I’m looking forward to the grooves because I think you’re going to see the PGA Tour respond with less rough and more twists in course setup. At least that’s their plan. And I think that translates to more interesting golf and better finishes. Most fun will be seeing if the groove change forces players to adopt softer, spinnier balls, which could be the backdoor ball rollback the USGA and R&A are hoping for.
Evans: I don’t think the groove thing will make that much difference for the top players. It’s going to hurt the average guy who doesn’t have a chance of winning anyway.
Shipnuck: I think the less aggressive grooves and softer balls are of a piece with a return to Pebble and the Old Course. This year may herald a return to finesse and shotmaking over mindless power, and that will be great for the game.
Morfit: Stewart Cink told me he played with his new wedges at the Chevron, and he said the groove change will affect the ball from a less-than-perfect lie; otherwise, not so much. He’s sticking with the same ball, by the way. He tries to avoid making too many changes at one time.
Dusek: However, Cink is going to be playing a new driver (Nike Victory Red STR8-Fit Tour) and new irons (Nike Victory Red Half Cavity) in 2010. While grooves will definitely reduce the spin the pros get around the greens, the Tour’s course setups will play a huge role in how aggressively the pros play. If the rough is less severe this season, as the Tour hinted it might be, then some players might still play bomb-and-gouge.
Shackelford: I’ve asked several players if the groove change would make them throttle back. They all said they could see the opposite effect, where guys want to hit it even longer so they can get more loft in their hands to compensate for the groove change. But early reaction suggests the big changes will be around the greens and the loss of distance from a shift to a softer ball.
Shipnuck: OK, I guess we gotta end it with the big fella. Let’s say Tiger reads this Confidential and realizes Golf.com is the only credible source of good advice. He calls each of you personally and asks for a point-by-point plan to orchestrate his return, beginning immediately. What do you tell him?
Friedman: The truth shall set you free. Then we decide whom to tell it to.
Hack: 1) Show yourself. Do an Oprah’s couch, a Kobe cry or Terrell Owens situps in the driveway. But show yourself.
2) Be humble and contrite, open and honest
3) Hit 1,000 shots a day, see you in the Spring
Morfit: 1. Oprah. ASAP.
2. Augusta. April.
3. Change everything, and I mean everything. Sell yacht. Sell Isleworth home and that huge, not-yet-moved-into estate nearby. Shave head with Schick razor and don’t worry who finds out. Find a new mentor and move near him.
4. Lay low. Play golf.
Shipnuck: 1. Go to rehab for sex addiction, even if it’s only for show.
2. Do a soul-baring interview. SI is the perfect vehicle (!), but failing that, there’s always Oprah. Announce you’re donating all of your 2010 endorsement money to charity.
3. Skip the first four months of the season as penance and to legitimately try to heal your family.
4. Learn to be Phil and smile at galleries and sign autographs after every round.
5. When you win your first tournament, fall to the ground and bawl uncontrollably, a la Jordan after his first title after his dad’s death. Irresistible.
6. Win at least one major. Remind people you’re still Tiger Woods.
Van Sickle: Just apologize genuinely for embarrassing yourself and hurting your family. Borrow the line from PTI: You’ll try to do better tomorrow. Say you’re not going to talk about what went on, to avoid further hurting your family, but talk golf as long as the reporters want you to. Answer their questions all day. Put aside time, like Phil, to sign autographs. Schmooze with sponsors. Show up unannounced at some grade school’s recess and do a golf clinic. Be seen in public so much that the paparazzi will get bored. In short, win everyone over again — fans, sponsors, media, friends.
Dusek: First, look Elin in the eyes and tell her anything she doesn’t already know. Then, if you want to save your marriage, and she will have you, consider taking 2010 off altogether. If Elin says the damage is too great and the marriage is done, accept that you really messed up, call Hank Haney and tell him it’s time to get to work. Do the interview on 60 Minutes, play Bay Hill or Doral and get the first press conference over with, and then, if your mind and game are ready, play Augusta.
Evans: 1. Don’t admit to anything else on your Web site.
2. Give a press conference on the Tuesday prior to your return. Make a statement about everything and take no questions about your marriage or the affairs. Tell the media that this is the last thing that you’re going to say on the matter.
3. Don’t change who you are.
4. Don’t cry or cuss in public.
5. Don’t text.
6. Don’t complain about the media.
Shipnuck: Farrell, you’re old school! But Tiger has done it his way so far, and I think we all agree it’s been a disaster. He’s gotta try something different, doesn’t he?
Garrity: My advice to Tiger is DON’T return. Quit golf. Abandon the pursuit of Nicklaus’s records. Walk out of rehab and into a monastery. Do the Thomas Merton thing for a few years. Pop up again in, say, 2020, as a thoroughly redeemed spiritual leader. Spend the remnants of your fortune on a Crystal Cathedral-style venue and launch a national program of spiritual uplift and political advocacy that will have admirers comparing you to Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. Voila! You’ll will wind up exactly as Earl Woods and SI’s Gary Smith predicted.