Tiger eyes controlled return

For Tiger Woods it appears a controlled environment will win out over a chance for a competitive one.

Tiger is “likely” to stage his return to golf at the Masters according to The Associated Press. If so, the April 8-11 tournament will end what will be a self-imposed (and mostly unnecessary) four-month hiatus from the PGA Tour after revelations he had more than a dozen girlfriends, news that was disconcerting to his wife, Elin.

His other option was the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tune-up tournament in his hometown of Orlando in late March. It would’ve allowed him at least a chance to get back into form while playing a favorable course he’s won six times, including each of the last two years. Then he could’ve attacked Augusta with an eye on a fifth green jacket.

The difference though is control. The Masters has a lot of it – over the media, over the gallery, over the atmosphere on its fabled grounds.

The Palmer Invitation at Bay Hill is your typical free-flowing golf tournament, where the players’ locker room is open to media, the public can get rowdy and the opportunity for opportunists is everywhere.

The Masters greatly limits both the number and type of media allowed to attend. There’ll be no TMZ at the “turniment” (at least officially). The players’ dressing room is off limits to reporters. The club, which Woods is a member due to his four championships, can protect him in ways no one else can.

When Woods rushed to give his apology speech, his handlers explained he had to return to rehab and it couldn’t wait. It turned out his second stint was just a week, so that wasn’t really true.

The timing was clearly designed to create as much space between his mea culpa and his return. It allowed the public time to get over the initial reaction and begin longing for him to just get back to hitting golf balls.

Woods has even retained former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer to help his already sizeable marketing team with the spin, according to the New York Post. Fleischer’s sports public relations company has also handled the unpopular Bud Selig, the hated Bowl Championship Series and the disgraced slugger Mark McGwire, whose recent “steroids admission” was short on actual truth.

This is the state of Tiger Woods’ desperation, hiring a PR firm that’s hasn’t been successful at helping even the most down and out entities in sports.

If that’s Tiger’s state of mind, then Augusta was probably the right call. He’ll have a chance to return with some dignity, which should be his right. As much as possible, he can concentrate on playing golf. He can begin reminding the public why they liked him in the first place.

The Palmer Invitational would’ve been bold, would’ve said he’d go right into the teeth of the reaction and would’ve signaled he still considered the Masters a place to win, not rehab.

The old Tiger would’ve done just that. This is the new Tiger Woods though, in every way imaginable.

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