ARI YOU KIDDING ME?: Tiger Woods hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to help plot his strategy for a return to golf, the New York Post reported Wednesday. Fleischer runs an eponymous sports communications firm [with backing from IMG] which deals with, among other things, crisis management. He most recently advised St. Louis Cardinals hitting instructor Mark McGwire on his public admission to using steroids.
That worked out well, with the whole steroids-didn't-make-me-hit-more-homeruns thing. What strategy will Fleischer use with Woods: 'Cheating on my wife didn't make me any less a family man?' All people want from Woods is honesty and humility. Instead we'll likely get a bunch of half-truths and more roundabouts than a British roadway. Time will tell, but this could be a bad move, Tiger.
WE'LL SEE YOU ...: Reports conflicted this past week as to when Tiger Woods would be returning to competition. The New York Post said he would be playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational, two weeks before the Masters. The Associated Press said he wouldn't play any sooner than at Augusta. And Mark O'Meara said he wouldn't be surprised if Woods played the Tavistock Cup, which is the Monday and Tuesday of Bay Hill week on his home course at Isleworth.
Both the Post and AP cited multiple anonymous sources for the inside information. If they are legitimate sources, it shouldn't be hard for Woods to figure out who is leaking information. Does he even have four people inside his camp? Of course this could all be strategic, just so no one really catches the scent of his trail. As for his return, Tavistock and the Masters offer ideal conditions regarding crowd control. But as far as the media is concerned, where he returns shouldn't really matter. The PGA Tour governs who covers its tournaments. Think Tim Finchem, or even Palmer, is letting TMZ through the gate?
THIS IS BIG [EASY]: Ernie Els won his first PGA Tour event in over two years, capturing the WGC-CA Championship. Els, a winner are Doral in 2002, closed in 6-under 66 to finish four strokes ahead of countryman – and roommate for the week – Charl Schwartzel. The victory was Els' 17th on Tour.
Els is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But, as is the case for many players in the Tiger Woods era, there's always been a feeling that he should have accomplished more. Two things have always stood in his way: his confidence and Woods. It's probably no coincidence that Els has regained his mental edge in Woods' absence. And if that's the case, so be it. Golf needs a player like Els. There are a lot of great players around the world, but there are only a handful – like Tom Kite small hands – of players who are true worldwide superstars. Els is one of them.
WORLDWIDE APPEAL: The WGC-CA Championship had true international appeal, as South Africa, Germany, the United States, Ireland, Australia, England and Spain were all showcased in the final top 10. In all, there were 19 countrys represented in the field of 68.
The World Golf Championships are a bigger misnomer than Grape-Nuts. These events act like everywhere outside the U.S. is infected with SARS. The underlying issue is that American golfers don't like to travel internationally to play. Well, there were only 25 yanks in the field at Doral. If you're going to contest these events under the umbrella of WORLD Golf Championships, then spread them out around the globe. If certain Americans don't want to travel, let them stay at home.
BOAT RACE TO THE FINISH: Plagued by a deluge, the Puerto Rico Open was delayed Thursday and Friday, and has been pushed to Monday, when they will try and complete 72 holes. Kevin Streelman [through 7] and Chad Collins [through 5] share the overnight third-round lead at 12 under. Golf Channel will air the conclusion on tape delay, beginning at 3 p.m. ET Monday.
You might want to dismiss this tournament and say, 'Who cares if it ever finishes,' but this is a very important event to a whole bunch of players [Twenty-three players are within four shots of the lead]. The winner might not get an automatic bid into the Masters, but he will get a check for $630,000 and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. That's plenty of reason to play it out, and play hard.
IT'S TIME TO GO: Ping chairman and CEO John Solheim announced Monday that Ping would waive its rights that prevent the PGA Tour from prohibiting the use of Ping Eye 2 wedges made before April 1, 1990 that have deeper, wider grooves no longer allowed under current U.S. Golf Association regulations. The controvertial wedges will become inelgible on Tour starting March 29.
For all the ballyhoo [code for excessive whining and complaining] that went on earlier in the year over players being able to use these wedges, this issue died with little fanfare. Much like the English language.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Yani Tseng won the Women's Australian Open by two shots over Laura Davies. ... Official reports from the Florida Highway Patrol showed that Elin Woods was not allowed to ride with her husband, Tiger, in the ambulance following his Nov. 27 crash because the ambulance crew suspected domestic violence. ... Peabody Award-winning cartoon series 'South Park' will lampoon Tiger Woods to begin their 14th season.
Karrie Webb, fresh off her seventh Aussie Masters title and seeking her fourth career Australian Open, shot 74 to finish third. ... Not sure if looks can really kill a person, but we'll find out if someone asks Woods about that whenever he has his first real press conference. ... 'South Park' is nothing but juvenile, potty humor. I will not watch this when it airs. I'll DVR it.