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The Biggest Mystery in Sports

February 20, 2010 Leave a comment

“I do plan to return to golf one day; I just don’t know when that day will be. I don’t rule out that it will be this year.” Tiger Woods spoke approximately 1,500 words Friday morning during his televised statement, but left us with just 28 words to try to solve the biggest mystery in sports…when will the world’s greatest golfer return to the course? I spent the better part of the afternoon soaking up the endless commentary, speculation and rumors, then did a little bit of my own research, and have come up with two (slightly obvious but very detailed) theories as to how the next chapter in the Tigermania saga will play out. Remember, at this point, the only 100% verified facts known to all of us outside of the Woods family are: Woods smashed his car, Multiple women claimed affairs with Tiger, Woods finished a 6-week rehab stint sometime in the last week or two, Woods apologized to everyone for said affairs, and Woods is going back to rehab. Everything else is noise, speculation, rumors, and anonymous sources (but that’s what makes this so much fun).

Theory 1: Tiger will miss the Masters, and probably one or more of the other major championships. If you believe Woods’ apology today was sincere and separate from any grand scheme, you are probably in this camp. The first round of the Masters tees off in 48 days, an obscenely short amount of time when compared with Woods’ tone today, and the gravity of the words he spoke. How can he seem so sincere about wanting to repair his personal life and his marriage, and then turn around and play in the biggest golf tournament of them all 7 weeks later? The media would eviscerate him if he started playing golf so soon after telling the world he still “had a lot to do” when it comes to his marriage. The timing for a near-term return to golf also makes absolutely no sense. We know Woods is going back to rehab (although it should be noted that most sex addiction programs only last for four to six weeks), be it for a week or a month. This leaves little time to tune up for major championship golf. There’s no way Woods can practice golf (aside from running on a treadmill) and be actively enrolled in a rehab program. And we honestly can’t expect Tiger the perfectionist to come play the Masters cold. Tiger is a champion and won’t return to golf until he’s darn sure he can still beat everyone else like a drum.

Theory 1 also portends that the media event today was (aside from being an actual genuine apology) an attempt to stop the endless speculation and the paparazzi hunting of him and his family that has taken place in the past few months. His wife Elin’s absence from the event today, under theory 1, signals that the rift is still there and Woods will not come back to the game until their marriage is genuinely on the road to repair, even if it kills him to sit out major championships played this year on some of his favorite courses. By sitting out the Masters, and perhaps the U.S. Open and other tournaments, Tiger shows that he truly is putting his marriage and children first. It makes his apology today more sincere.

Theory 2: Tiger will return to golf in the next two months, ideally at the end of March at the Tavistock Cup or Bay Hill Invitational. He will then play the Masters. Under theory 2, although the media event today was a genuine apology, it was also just part of the Rehabilitate Tiger program… Cataclysmic meltdown? Check. Bin-Laden-like disappearance? Check. Stint in rehab? Check. Strategically leaked photo of Woods swinging a golf club to remind everyone his primary occupation is golfer and not serial cheater? Check. Unconfirmed TMZ report (I know…) Tiger met with officials from a golf tournament held in his backyard in March? Check. Public apology to family, friends, fans, co-workers, sponsors, everyone else? Check. Return to golf?…

Throw out all the junk about wanting to get back at Accenture, or to show off the fact that he did 6 weeks of rehab. Theory 2 says that the Woods apology today paves the way for a return to golf soon. Woods could have done today’s media event whenever and wherever he wanted. But he chose to do it on the PGA’s turf at TPC Sawgrass, and seven weeks ahead of the Master’s. We always knew Woods wasn’t going to suddenly return from his exile, show up at a tournament and say ala Bush 43 “Hey, I’m sorry, now watch me hit this drive.” The apology event today and the forthcoming week of non-stop spin-cycle media analysis was always a 100% pre-requisite for his return to golf. And now he’s gotten it out of the way he is free to return to hit the links whenever he chooses. If you think he still has to do the teary Q/A with Barbara Walters in order to get back to golf, you’re crazy, because by his own admission Woods pretty much ruled out answering any questions related to the juicy bits of the scandal, ever. Critics will say that if Woods is going to return to golf sooner rather than later he would/should have come out today and said, “I will play Tournament X.” But these same people forget how the media work. Today there was only room for one dominant message, or meme if you will, and Tiger rightfully wanted it to be the “I’m sorry” message. If he put a firm timetable on a return at the end of the speech then that would have been the story of the day, and the apology would have been lost in the shuffle. And it’s clear that if he tried to jump back into golf without first doing the mea culpa, his marriage would be dead.

Theory 2 will also have you note that if Tiger is really working the famous “12 Steps” then he must think he’s near the end of the rehab process, as step 9 is making public amends to those you wronged. Tiger managed to apologize to everyone from his family, to sponsors, other golfers, kids, families etc. And if he and his handlers think the rehab process is complete (I’m talking about personal rehab, not making the marriage whole), the next logical step is to get back on the golf course. With theory 2, working on his marriage and playing golf are not mutually exclusive events. Is Tiger Woods really going to sit cooped up in the house for weeks and months and watch golf tournaments…golf tournaments taking place in his backyard, golf tournaments he knows he can win?

If you’re a control freak like Tiger Woods (and today’s press conference rehearsed speech showed that), ideally your return to golf would be at a venue close by, among friends, devoid of shouting fans, nosey reporters and the merciless click-click of a camera shutter. So in what is perhaps the world’s biggest coincidence, just such an event exists…the Tavistock Cup…and it’s next month! You may have heard of the Tavistock Cup, a 10 vs. 10 mixed play made-for-the Golf Channel competition between two neighboring country clubs, mentioned by the media as a possible return spot for Woods. But Tavistock is more than a possible return spot; it’s the perfect event for Tiger to play. First, Tavistock is literally played in Tiger’s backyard. The map below shows the approximate location of Woods’s Windermere house, which is within the same development of the Isleworth Country Club to which Woods is a member and where the tournament is held. The only travel involved would be a 2-minute drive in a black SUV down Main Street to the first tee box. Heck, since both Woods’ mansion and the country club are in the same gated community, Woods could probably walk to the event.

Second, access to the Tavistock Cup is TIGHTLY controlled. As the tournament website states: “We are sorry, but tickets are not available to the general public. Only members of Isleworth Golf and Country Club, members of Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, tournament sponsors, and VIP guests are allowed to attend this event.” Other gems from the Tavistock website: “NO CELL PHONES OR CAMERAS WILL BE ALLOWED ON THE PROPERTY” and “Please refrain from asking any players for autographs during play.” Third it’s only two days long and it’s not a real tournament (it’s mostly a team event with Fourball Medal Match Play and Fourball Singles Medal Match Play). That means 50% fewer days of media circus and if Tiger chokes, it doesn’t look as bad as *gasp* missing the cut in a real tournament. Fourth, playing Tavistock sets up the next two events in Tiger’s return as he could play the Bay Hill Invitational aka Arnold Palmer’s tournament a few days later and then the Masters two weeks after that. Remarkably, as seen on the map, Palmer’s tournament is just a hop, skip and a jump from Woods’ Windermere mansion. Fifth, the timing isn’t impossible. If he does another couple weeks in rehab, that leaves two to three weeks to get into playing shape. Sixth, Tavistock gives Tiger a chance to rehabilitate his image. He can donate his entire share of the purse to charity, sign autographs, take pictures etc.

[A discussion of the Tavistock Cup is not complete without mentioning the *sigh* TMZ report of 2/16 claiming Tiger met with Tavistock Cup officials (http://www.tmz.com/2010/02/16/tiger-woods-golf-tournament-tavistock-cup-march-isleworth-the-masters). I don’t want to use a TMZ report for the basis of an argument, but they have nailed a lot of stuff in the past. If he actually did meet with tournament officials for an hour, it wasn’t to talk about improving the greens at the country club. Meeting with tournament officials period seems fishy and obvious. We have phones and handlers so why on Earth would Tiger go to a meeting? My gut tells me if Tiger told the officials he was coming back that someone would have leaked the information. This is the most closely-guarded secret since the Republican and Democratic VP announcements in 2008. Just take any TMZ report with a HEALTHY dose of skepticism].

Tiger playing Tavistock means there’s a 90% chance he plays the Masters, and other tournaments. So how will we know if Tiger is playing Tavistock? In 2008 the press release of the participants was made 13 days before the event. In 2009 it was made 27 days before the event. This year Tavistock starts March 22nd, so expect the release to come between February 24th and March 9th. It will be extremely telling if it’s March 15th and there hasn’t been an announcement of the tournament participants. Tiger and his handlers will probably want to give the media as little advance notice as possible regarding his return. Tiger can seize the story if he announces a return the day before, and just goes out and plays. Wait, I’m getting a bit of déjà-vu writing that sentence…comeback…sudden announcement…the day before…ah yes…Tiger’s co-title holder for World’s Most Famous Athlete: Michael Jordan. Jordan quit baseball in early March of 1995 and the nation went through two weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation, the pictures of Jordan partaking in shootarounds with his crew, the sightings at the practice facilities, and then suddenly on March 18, 1995, a simple press release stating “I’m back.” The next night we watched him wear the infamous #45 and score 19 points against the Pacers. It wasn’t glamorous and it wasn’t the playoffs, it was just a regular season game. Do not discount the possibility that Tiger goes the same route whenever he decides to return, but especially if he plans to return in March or April.

In closing, we’ll never see Tiger Woods the same way again. We will always mentally link Tiger with tawdry affairs, and the women, and the voicemails etc. But Woods by his own admission will never answer questions about the above. So the only way for Woods to change the story is for Tiger to answer questions like “Why did you hit that 7-iron from the rough on #16?” And the only way Woods is going to get those kinds of questions from reporters is to return to the links. On balance, the more logical theory is the first one. But Tiger Woods having affairs with a dozen women didn’t seem logical before November. Theory 2 is entirely plausible, it even makes some sense, and that may be what makes it appealing.

If you read 100 articles on the speech today, most of them said Woods would not return in time for the Masters. But remember these people have no more special knowledge of what’s in Tiger’s brain than you or I do. Follow the clues, do your homework and you may solve the biggest mystery in sports.

EDIT 1 Just stumbled across what I am 95% certain is the program Tiger is in at the clinic in Mississippi…http://www.pinegrovetreatment.com/gentle-path.html Interesting that the program notes that the typical duration is six weeks. Why would Woods return to rehab if he finished the six-week program? Perhaps for the additional one-week Family Care program with Elin?

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