No Place Like Home


Maybe it’s big news, maybe it isn’t, but if the past has any bearing on the near future, Tiger Woods will return to competitive golf this month. His sessions with swing coach Hank Haney at Isleworth last weekend are a very clear indication that Woods is getting down to serious business, commonly known as tournament preparation.
Tiger Woods and Hank Haney at Hazeltine
Tiger Woods and Hank Haney at last year's PGA Championship. (Getty Images)
No question, Tiger has his eye on the Masters, and with a couple of home games (Tavistock Cup, Arnold Palmer Invitational) just a couple of weeks away, I would be surprised if Woods didn’t play in both events.

The guy has never been overly reliant on Haney, or Butch Harmon, for that matter. Both men have served primarily as an extra set of eyes – to call them “instructors” in this context is somewhat humorous. Tiger knows his swing better than anyone, but when it comes to fine-tuning, he is keenly aware of Haney’s value and maintains a high level of trust in the Texan’s ability to incorporate his own swing theories with what works best for Woods.

Put it this way: Sir Eldrick wouldn’t have hunkered down with Hank to get ready for the Isleworth member-guest.

On last week’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole,” I expressed doubt that Tiger would play at all in 2010. My opinion, like the 20 or 30 million others related to this saga, was little more than guesswork, although it did have some form of basis – a member of the Woods camp had told a friend of mine that he wasn’t expecting a return this year. Not that it matters, but it’s entirely possible Tiger woke up one recent morning and decided the world’s best golfer was ready to become the World’s Best Golfer once again.

There has been no announcement, and in all likelihood, Woods won’t say anything until the Friday afternoon deadline prior to the tournament he enters. At some point, however, reality has to step forward. Tiger Woods is a golfer. For all the domestic problems he has brought upon himself, there comes a time when his efforts to salvage his marriage might be aided by his returning to work. Perhaps his wife, Elin, who has been seen hitting balls with her husband, has encouraged Tiger to begin focusing on his return to the competitive arena.

The massive distraction isn’t going to disappear whether he returns in two weeks, in June, or next January. And if the theory that people will start to forgive him once he resumes winning seems a bit farfetched, it stands to reason that a couple of victories will remind everyone, dare I say, why Woods is famous in the first place.

When I spoke to Charles Howell III last week, he reiterated what he’d told others a day or two earlier – that Tiger struck the ball remarkably well during their half-hour together and could not have looked much sharper at any time, much less after a 3 ½-month layoff. Here’s another guess: Woods started hitting balls and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of rust. He probably had fun hitting so many good shots so quickly, which surely would have helped him realize how much he loved and missed the game.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

That certainly might convince him to accelerate the process of returning. He calls Haney, who tells Ray Romano he’ll see him in a couple of days, and the guy who sounded so uncertain three weeks ago about playing anytime soon begins plotting his comeback in earnest. It’s worth repeating: Hank didn’t fly to Florida to help the man prepare for a tournament three months down the road.

Lots of people have considered the Tavistock Cup the perfect place for Woods to resurface. An unofficial event played on his home course – in a gated community, no less – with ticket sales limited to 5,000. It’s the type of controlled environment Tiger craves, and for that matter, so is the Masters, although the good ol’ boys in the green jackets aren’t about to let Woods dictate the terms of his participation.

Still, the galleries at Augusta National are the friendliest and most respectful in golf. From the splendid isolation of the Tavistock to an official start 15 minutes from his home, then a major championship with little or no taunting from the gallery, maybe Tiger simply came to the conclusion that he won’t find a better stretch to resume his career. He won’t do that until he’s ready, obviously, but it’s also becoming obvious that he’s a lot closer than many people thought.