Here's the plan for Tiger Woods: Go to Augusta, leave on Thursday

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Mark Purdy
Monday, March 15, 2010

The Tiger Woods mystery trip continues.

He is back on the cart path to competition. Or not. He will return to the PGA Tour later this month. Unless he won’t. He is a lock to play in the Masters. Except if he doesn’t. Please send your latest Twitter rumor to yourguessisasgoodasmine.

Officially, Woods’ plans for a comeback tournament remain vague—although a New York Post report says he will enter the Bay Hill Invitational two weeks from now in Florida. As a warmup, he might play in a two-day exhibition event nearby.

Too soon. Way too soon. If you watched Woods’ speech last month—for those of us at the Winter Olympics, it was surreal to look up from snowboarding and see Tiger discussing Buddhism—then you know how positively squirmy and uncomfortable the whole thing was.

Frankly, the speech contained way more information about his personal life than I desired to know. My takeaway: This guy really does have issues he needs to work through and solve. For the sake of his family, I wish him luck. But his internal “sex addiction” demons should be solely between Woods and his wife. At this point, the public really has a right to know just two things:

1. The date and event when Woods will return to competitive professional golf.

2. Whether the nasty off-the-course events will affect the performance that Woods can provide to the people who buy tickets to watch him play.

You probably noticed that in his squirmy speech, he addressed neither topic. It told me Woods required a lot more time to clear out his brain before he could start fully concentrating on 9-iron loft. I certainly thought that time period would be longer than this.

But if coming back at Bay Hill is the strategy “& well, all I can tell you is, I have a much better strategy. It involves pointing toward the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as his first major championship of the year—but only after a visit to the Masters at which he does not actually enter the tournament.

A screwy idea? Wouldn’t be my first. But I think it beats the advice Woods has been receiving so far from his public relations “team” — which includes Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush.

Leaving politics out of it, I can assure you of this: Whatever salary Fleischer is being paid, it’s way too much. Fleischer was also the man who set up Mark McGwire’s series of “apology” appearances for his return to baseball. And we all know how spectacularly that went. Makes it easier to believe that Fleischer did indeed contributed to Woods’ squirmy speech.

Fleischer and Woods, according to the New York Post report, huddled early last week to forge a media rollout blueprint for Bay Hill. Such a mistake that would be.

Here’s why: If you have a choice about where to resurface from a tawdry five-month absence that involved mistresses and cheating, is it really a great idea to do so in the home state of the National Enquirer? Or just down the road from the Thanksgiving weekend accident site, a perfect spot for tabloid television to set up remote satellite reports? At a tournament that has never had to cope with this kind of circus?

Let’s face it. Whenever Woods next appears at a golf event, it will be a media zoo. So the best place to do that would be an event where the situation can be best controlled—but is also open to both media and public interaction.

Hello, Augusta.

Trust me. I’ve been there. The people who run the Masters are experts at maintaining control. Spectators who misbehave are asked to leave, with their future ticket privileges nullified. Media members are credentialed only if they are legitimate. And as the only major played on the same course every year, the Masters has security procedures down to a science.

On the surface, it sounds crazy to think that Woods’ first tournament back should be a major. But it’s crazy only if he plays in the tournament. And who says he must?

No matter when he plays his first tournament or his first major, the commotion created by Woods will surely affect his concentration on the course. So why not get the circus part of the equation out of the way without having to worry about playing any real golf?

As a past champion, Woods will always be welcome on the Augusta National premises. But there’s no requirement for him to tee it up on Thursday. Plenty of former Masters champs show up every year just to socialize and enjoy the vibes. And this time, Woods’ trip to Augusta would be strictly about rebuilding bridges.

If I am drawing up his schedule, this is how it would go:

On Monday morning at another Augusta course, he could participate in some sort of fan-friendly event, maybe a youth clinic or low-priced cookout as a fundraiser for a local charity.

On Tuesday morning, Woods could hold a no-holds-barred media session in the Masters press room. Any question would be welcome, on any topic. But the questioners would be the traditional journalists who cover golf and are always credentialed at the Masters, which means that no tabloid television shows would be there.

On Tuesday night, Woods could attend the yearly Champions Dinner. There, he could quietly make peace with the other former Masters winners, the top-echelon pros with whom he most especially must make amends for causing such tumult on tour.

On Wednesday, as a nod to fans, Woods could play in the annual Masters par-3 tournament. A lucky teenager from the PGA’s First Tee program could serve as his caddie. The mood of the Par 3 contest is always light and casual, but respectful. What a perfect stage for Woods to again begin his interaction with the real world.

And then, on Thursday morning, Woods could leave town, so as not to be a distraction during the tournament itself. He could begin intense work on his game. And it wouldn’t be such a huge deal the next time he showed up at any tournament—say, in early June at the Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus, another event known for civil crowds.

All of this would set up Woods perfectly for the Open at Pebble Beach in June. That should be his target. The worst thing he could do is come back prematurely at a tournament unaccustomed to handling such a frenzy, then struggle on the course and invite taunts in the same town where Charles Barkley once had ice thrown on him by a heckler at a bar, then responded by tossing the ice-thrower out the bar window.

Woods has only one opportunity to do this right. Augusta is right. Augusta without golf pressure, even better. Ari Fleischer knows where to find me.

Last updated: 1:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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