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Where Have You Gone, Tiger Woods?

On the Chinese Zodiac calendar, most of 2010 is “The Year of the Tiger.” That calendar year starts Feb. 14 (coincidentally Valentine’s Day), perhaps the perfect time for a certain golfer still in hiding to show his face, tee it up and get back to the business of doing what he does best.

According to the website, “the Tiger symbolizes such character traits as bravery, competitiveness and unpredictability…They don’t worry about the outcome because they always know they’ll land on their feet … Don’t let their calm appearance fool you; Tigers will pounce when they feel it is necessary.”

For Tiger Woods, it seems more necessary with each passing day for him to leap back into a sport he has dominated for the last two decades and try to begin distancing himself from the slimy scandal of serial infidelity of his very own making, aided and abetted by who knows how many enablers on or off his payroll.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sooner or later, Woods surely will have to end his so-called “indefinite” hiatus from the game, put one spiked shoe in front of the other and head toward the first tee, no matter how painful that first step – and many more thereafter – surely will be.

Wherever Woods plays in the beginning, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, the cry of “you da man” from behind the gallery ropes almost certainly will be replaced by “you da moron,” not to mention catty calls of “Cheetah” and perhaps far worse from the swirling masses.

And yet, sooner rather than later obviously would be more preferable timetable for his return to a sport that is not even close to the same without him, despite Tim Finchem’s see-no-evil optimism. Never mind the loss of some of his own top sponsors and the others that Woods’ absence will hurt – the PGA Tour, its network and cable television partners, viewers at home, spectators on the course, tournament sponsors and the charities that benefit.

When will the No. 1 player in the world, arguably the greatest golfer of all time, resurface? Only he knows for sure, and perhaps even Woods hasn’t made up his mind. He should – immediately. And none of the above is meant to advance any notion that it’s time to forgive and forget. For one, Woods certainly doesn’t need my forgiveness, or yours. His wife and family are another story, a private story for all of them to sort out.

As for forgetting, from the day he steps back inside the ropes, it’s enough to say that we should always remember that Woods was not the man, the husband, the father, the paragon of sports perfection we all once admired. He still has a chance to become the greatest player of all time.

Far be it from anyone in the media to advise Woods on anything. But wouldn’t Augusta National offer Woods the softest landing possible, not to mention a venue that so obviously suits his game? The Lords of the Masters surely would envelop Woods in a cocoon of soothing green jackets. They can control the tabloid and website riff-raff by simply denying them access through the press gate and into the media center. Woods probably would never have to leave the grounds. Surely a proper cabin on the property could be found for the week.

Toon-a-ment officials can warn already reverential spectators that offensive comments from the galleries will result in the loss of a precious ticket. They can tell always-compliant CBS to go easy on the sleazy and emphasize the play of their four-time champion, or else risk losing the future rights to a tradition like no other. They can even begin Woods’ first press conference – assuming they’ll even put him on the pre-tournament interview schedule – by insisting on golf questions only. But wouldn’t it make far more sense for him to simply face some of the early chin music, briefly bare his soul for a welcome change and just get it all over with?

By the way, I also believe that when Woods does come back to the Tour, he will keep winning tournaments, majors included. There has never been a golfer alive so facile in compartmentalizing every aspect of his life. The game has always taken paramount importance above all else – the death of a beloved parent, injuries, swing and instructor changes, slumps, marriage, kids, multiple affairs and whatever comes next.

Really, didn’t you just laugh out loud last week when Colin Montgomerie, the man who still hears voices from his often-dwindling galleries, said of Woods that “I think the mystique is gone. I think the mysterious nature of the guy is gone … It gives us more opportunity to find ways of winning these events now, and I’m thinking of myself as well as my peers.”

Think again, Monty. It’s the Year of the Tiger, and don’t ever forget this is a totally different breed of cat, in every way.


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