Players weighing in on Woods
MARANA, Ariz. -- It was a few minutes before sunrise Wednesday morning in this desert town north of Tucson. Before the first shot at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship ever went airborne, a tournament official was asked about the atmosphere so far this week.
"Quiet," he remarked. "Very quiet."
No further explanation was necessary. On this day one year ago, Ritz-Carlton Golf Club was the epicenter of the sports world. Tiger Woods was competing in his first event since winning the 2008 U.S. Open and undergoing subsequent knee surgery, and his every movement was captured by dozens of cameras, each swing of the club a developing news story unto itself.
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This time, though, there was no main story. Serving a self-imposed indefinite leave of absence, Woods was far from the scene of his triumphant return, both literally and figuratively. Joining fellow superstar Phil Mickelson as the only qualified players to eschew the event, he left these festivities without their previous plotline, rendering the week so far, well, very quiet.
When examining Woods' impact on the game, perhaps we should look no further than at what occurred in the hours that followed. After 64 of the world's 66 best players failed to make much more than a ripple in the ongoing news cycle in the early part of the week, a statement that Woods will hold a limited-attendance, no-questions-allowed news conference Friday morning at PGA Tour headquarters ignited a palpable buzz throughout the tournament site.
By the time every match had started, the Tiger effect was in full swing. Striding into the media center wearing a perma-smile on his face was PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who began an informal three-minute question-and-answer session with the assembled media by rhetorically asking, "Is anything going on?"
If Finchem couldn't hide his pleasure about Woods' impending statement -- if not his return to the competitive arena -- he at least remained mum on the details of the situation.
"I don't know what his plans are in terms of what he's going to say," said Finchem, who intimated that he also will be present at the news conference. "I don't know what he's going to do after he finishes his rehab. You know, I think all of that is TBD. I'm pleased that he's going to make some comments and do what the statement says he's going to do, so that's good news."
In a week previously devoid of any intriguing storylines, it also qualified as the biggest news.
One by one, players who had already teed off before the announcement of Tiger's upcoming statement was released were briefed on the few details and asked whether they had any instant reaction. Whether they said so or not, many likely had the same response as Rory McIlroy, who admitted, "Not really." Others are glad to hear Woods is coming forward.
"It's encouraging that he's coming back to at least be seen by the public -- and the rest of us, too," said Stewart Cink, who won his opening match against Edoardo Molinari. "I consider myself the public when we're talking about this matter. So it's good that we're going to see Tiger Woods.
"I don't know what he's going to talk about, really. I think it's coincidental that he would pick the Friday of Accenture to announce. It's probably got more to do with his schedule than anything else. It will be good to see Tiger's face again, and see that he's actually out there somewhere. We haven't really known much. I'm glad to hear that; I think this is maybe the beginning of the comeback process for him."
Coincidental or not, the decision of Woods' handlers to choose this date to make such an announcement sparked the ire of conspiracy theorists, who noted that, because Accenture was the first corporate partner to end its sponsorship deal with the golfer, maybe he would see fit to cause a little commotion during its annual tournament.
"You'd have to ask the Woods camp about the schedule," said Finchem, who claimed he hadn't discussed the timing with any officials from the tournament's title sponsor. "You know, we were asked to make the facility available and to help with the logistics. That's what we're doing. And my sense is that this is part of his schedule and what he's dealing with and going through, but I don't know that."
If we know one thing about Tiger it's that he knows how to hold a grudge. This wouldn't be the first example of Woods wielding his power to overcome an opponent off the course, as his first public statement since that Nov. 27 single-car accident in front of his home certainly will overshadow the events here in the desert.
Not that it will affect any of his fellow players on this side of the country at all.
"I guess everybody is going to get their answers," Sergio Garcia said. "I'm focused on this tournament here. That's a lot to worry about. I think he'll be OK."
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
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