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Tiger Woods keeps world waiting for a return date

Tiger Woods issued an emotional apology for cheating on wife Elin and made it clear he has no immediate plans to return to golf as he continues to spend time in therapy.

Woods has been the dominant figure in golf ever since he turned professional in 1996 and won two of his first seven events, and has gone on to win 14 major titles, four short of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.

Jack Nicklaus captured those crowns between 1962 and 1986 and 34-year-old Woods was way ahead of that pace before first injury and then infidelity forced him away from the course.

His return from a knee injury came last February but, amid rumours of problems in his marriage, he remained on 14 throughout 2009.

And then the year ended, of course, with the father of two going on another "indefinite break" to try to mend his ways as reports of multiple affairs hit the headlines.

Woods' first major victory was the 1997 Masters, the first he had played after leaving the amateur ranks.

After going to the turn in 40 on the opening day, paired with defending champion Nick Faldo, he went on to win by a record 12 shots and with a record 18-under-par total. At 21 he was also the youngest-ever winner at Augusta.

Although he was the centre of attention wherever he went after that - 'Tigermania' was born - it was not until the last major of 1999 that he triumphed again, holding off Sergio Garcia to capture the US PGA title.

What followed the following season was nothing short of sensational.

At Pebble Beach he won the US Open by a record 15 strokes and a month later he took the Open at St Andrews by eight.

By retaining the US PGA after a play-off with fellow Californian Bob May he returned to the Masters in April 2001 with the chance to achieve golf's first-ever clean sweep of the majors - and did it to complete what became known as the 'Tiger Slam'.

Two more majors came the following year and two more in 2005, including another triumph at St Andrews by five over Colin Montgomerie.

Woods added a third Open title at Hoylake in 2006 just after the death of his father Earl, but his 14th major was perhaps the most remarkable of them all.

It came in the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008 when he beat Rocco Mediate despite being in obvious agony with his knee.

Only after the play-off did Woods reveal to the world just how bad he was. As well as needing immediate surgery on his knee he played with two stress fractures in his leg.

His lay-off meant he missed the last two majors of that season and the Ryder Cup - the one competition in which Woods does not have a great record.

Only once has he been on the winning side since his debut at Valderrama in Spain in 1997.

Off the course, naturally, Woods has coined it in. It is estimated that he earns over 100 million US dollars annually from endorsements and appearances fees, although his image has taken a battering because of the problems in his private life.

His last event was the Australian Masters in November. It cost the organisers three million US dollars to get him there, it was reported, and yet such was the interest created that it was generally considered money well spent in Melbourne. And Woods won.

Nobody underestimates how much of the credit for golf's increased purses and profile is down to Woods since he first arrived on the scene.

Prize money has gone through the roof and television viewing figures rocket whenever and wherever he is playing.

His Foundation charity has already raised many millions and his background - his late father was an African American and his mother is Thai - has helped to take golf to a new audience.

Introduced to his wife Elin nine years ago by European Ryder Cup player Jesper Parnevik, they were engaged in 2003 and married in 2004.

Daughter Sam Alexis was born in June 2007 and son Charlie Axel arrived last February.

They are too young, of course, to grasp all that has been happening in the past few months. But Woods must know he faces a lot of awkward questions from them in the years to come.

And unlike at today's gathering in Florida for his first public utterances since the scandal broke, there will be questions he will have to answer.

Belfast Telegraph


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