Speculating on When Tiger Will Return
By Stephanie Wei under General

On Friday RadarOnline reported Tiger Woods has left rehab. Apparently his wife, Elin Nordegren, picked him up at Gentle Grove in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and they left together to spend some quality time alone as they attempt to repair their marriage. Multiple unnamed sources also told Radar that Tiger is determined to return to the PGA Tour.

So when will that be?

Australia’s Herald Sun published a dubious, unsubstantiated report on Thursday, claiming Tiger is set to stage his “shock return [in two weeks] at the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.” The only source cited is “strengthening whispers.” Instead the writer framed a tenuous argument for the timing of Tiger’s return:

It is also a favourite event for Woods, who has won it in 2003, 2004 and 2008.

With Tiger’s eye doubtless still on his quest for majors’ history, it’s safe to assume he will not turn up cold at Augusta and give up a chance to close on Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18.

Accenture was among the first sponsors to ditch Woods when all hell broke loose in November, but other elements of his impending return line up.

As a matchplay event, it’s more for the purists than perhaps a “regular” tour event would be, diminishing his chances of being harassed.

Similarly, if he was to play badly in round one, he could “disappear” again rather than sit in the glare of the media spotlight until the mid-tournament cut.

Uh, yeah. I call BS. I’m forced to believe the paper published the story to sell papers, which makes them the latest to capitalize on Tiger’s sex scandal. First off, Accenture just dropped Tiger, so unless he’s trying to make good with the company, why would he bring publicity (and money) to the event? Plus, it wouldn’t leave much time to work on recovering from his so-called addiction and mending things with his family. Coming back in two weeks would discredit the sincerity of his vow to being a “better person.”

Good thing is that most media outlets were just as skeptical of the report.  A source close to Tiger told FoxSports.com, “As far as I know (Woods’ return) will not be at the Match Play.”

Meanwhile, a PGA Tour spokesperson called it “speculation.”

Tiger’s caddie, Steve Williams, informed the NZ Herald News, “All that I will say is the story circulating out of a Melbourne newspaper has no fabric to it at all,” but refused to comment on when his boss would return to the links.

Nobody knows. Tiger might not even know. But the conventional wisdom has marked The Masters.

First, let’s go to Jim Furyk:

I’d bet we’d see him at Augusta. Tiger hasn’t come out and made any real public statements, so it’s hard to figure out. Everyone is guessing it will be Augusta. Whether he comes out earlier, or there, I have no idea.

Next up, Geoff Ogilvy:

The least amount of circus he could face would be if he went to Augusta first, as that would be the most controlled environment he could be in. But then if he truly wants to win at Augusta he’s going to want to play before then.

Here’s Mike Weir:

I suspect he’ll be back – just my guess – I think he’ll be back for the Masters. I’m hoping he’s back for the majors. They’re at such great venues this year, courses he’s obviously done very well on.

Most recently, Sir Nick Faldo chimed in:

There’s still two months until the Masters and I would have thought that would be a good place to sneak in early. He could have a week’s preparation away from everybody, and obviously Augusta is the most secure event and he’d have a relatively free run.

My guess? Definitely not the Accenture Match Play event. If he returns this year, Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill seems to be the logical choice. Like Ogilvy said, Tiger will probably want a warm-up before The Masters. But the longer he stays away from the game, the less likely we’ll see him back on the fairways in 2010. Which makes us miss him all the more.

While we don’t look forward to the media circus at his first tournament, he can silence much of the negative chatter with a strong performance and a good attitude. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. But I’d just like him to come out of hiding and play some golf — of course only when he’s properly recovered from being an asshole his sex addiction.

[Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images]