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Tiger Woods leaves fans in the dark

Tiger Woods won his last — sorry, most recent — Major title with a crocked knee and two leg fractures.

Yet one suspects the physical agony he endured during that tortured week at the 2008 US Open in Torrey Pines pales into insignificance alongside yesterday's ordeal in the Sunset Room at the Tournament Players Club in Sawgrass.

Inevitably, Tiger looked wooden at times in a situation which only Presidents and Prime Ministers are trained for.

Clearly, however, Tiger had been well-coached, pausing at precisely the right moments and even touching his chest with his hand at that key moment: “For all that I have done, I am so sorry.”

It was so like one of those Presidential press briefings at the White House, one half expected Woods to conclude with “God bless you all and God bless America.”

Instead, Tiger finished with a simple ‘Thank You', before walking into the arms of his mother, Kultida, who'd been sitting in the front row.

There was a distinct funereal feel as Woods then shook hands or embraced with a few friends, including PGA Tour player Notah Begay before, sombrely, he walked through heavy curtains and away.

It's incredibly difficult even for broadcast professionals to convey sincerity when reading a script.

The words Woods uttered yesterday certainly amounted to an abject, heartfelt apology.

Yet as six-times Major Champion Nick Faldo quite rightly said: “It's not about words, it is about actions. Cut to the bottom line, it's all down to actions.”

Aside from everything that has happened since that ill-fated night in November when he crashed into a fire hydrant and opened up a sordid can of worms, the only question golf really needs answered is when will Woods be back.

The chances of Tiger's return to the Major Championship arena at April's US Masters certainly seems remote.

“I do plan to return to golf one day,” he said. “I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year.”

Those are sombre words indeed for US PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, prominent among those sitting in the front row yesterday, and the world of golf. TV ratings drop by up to 50 per cent when Tiger doesn't play, while attendances at tournaments fall by more than 20 per cent.

Woods made his comeback after an eight months injury break at last year's Accenture Match Play Championship, attracting massive crowds to The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on Dove Mountain, just outside Tucson.

In his absence, the atmosphere at this year's event has been distinctly subdued.

Golf simply is not as exciting to the general public when Tiger's not around and, if that's for too long, the sport's earning power will suffer.

If it'd be hard to sell the Woods brand to corporate entities right now, the game's prospects of attracting tournament sponsorship without him is greatly diminished without him.

That explains why the Tour rowed-in with hearty assistance for Tiger at this time, even providing him with a secure venue for a function which indisputably has stolen the thunder of this week's $8.5m World Championship, leaving its sponsor, Accenture, in the shade.

Woods even thanked “my friends at Accenture” (who were among the first of his sponsors to dump him) and the players in the field in Tucson “for understanding why I'm making these remarks today”.

Earlier this week Ernie Els gave words to the disquiet in the locker room at Dove Mountain over the timing of Tiger's announcement, accusing him of selfishness.

Also amazing is the appearance on Wednesday of a photograph of Woods jogging near his home and on Thursday of shots of him smiling and hitting golf balls on the range at Isleworth, pictures which clearly would have far more appeal to newspaper editors than action snaps from the match play.

Woods' words had a genuine ring to them but the actions of Team Tiger in recent days suggest a hidden agenda where Accenture and the tournament they sponsor is concerned.

Tiger returns to the clinic tomorrow but if he's been out a week, why could his long-awaited first appearance in pubic not have taken place last Monday or Tuesday — does a man so deeply sincere about making his apologies really require so many days of coaching in how to say it?

Should we rule out the US Open at Pebble Beach or The Open at St Andrews, Tiger's two favourite venues in golf and where he achieved two of his greatest Major Championship victories in 2000?

Maybe the JP McManus International Pro-Am at Adare Manor the week before July's British Open, offer Woods the best opportunity of a gentle return to golf and the company of his peers on Tour? Who knows — not even Tiger.

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