Sources: Woods to return at Masters

3/12/2010 - Golf Tiger Woods

When will Tiger Woods return to the PGA Tour?

It depends on whom you believe.

The Associated Press is reporting Woods intends to remain out of golf at least until the Masters, according to two people with knowledge of his plans. ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, citing a source "in the Woods camp," echoed the AP report.

A report in the New York Post has Woods playing in two weeks, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla.

Meanwhile, Woods' longtime friend, Mark O'Meara, told the Golf Channel Wednesday that he "wouldn't be surprised" if Woods played during the Tavistock Cup, a competition between two high-profile golf clubs in Orlando where several prominent PGA Tour players are members. The tournament is scheduled for March 22-23 at Isleworth.

The event would be a good way for Woods to ease back into competitive play, O'Meara told the Golf Channel.

"It's been a rough road the last three or four months in Tiger's life and his family's life," O'Meara said on the network. "It's a very difficult situation. Golf is what Tiger does, and possibly part of the healing process is to get back at it."

Woods has been practicing at Isleworth near his Orlando home the last two weeks, and swing coach Hank Haney flew there during the weekend to work with him. That led to speculation Thursday he was close to playing again.

The two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because only Woods is supposed to release such information, say he is likely to play first at Augusta National in April.

The only other time Woods played a major after such a long layoff was the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, before which he was out nine weeks coping with his father's death. That's where he missed the cut for the first time at a major.

Woods has not played since Nov. 15, when he won the Australian Masters in Melbourne for his 82nd career victory. Twelve days later, he crashed his SUV into a tree near his Florida home, setting off revelations he had been cheating on his wife.

In his first public appearance Feb. 19 at the TPC Sawgrass, when he apologized for his behavior and confessed to having extramarital affairs, he said he would return to golf and that "I don't rule out that it will be this year."

There have been signs during the last few weeks he was getting closer.

Woods returned from family therapy in Arizona on Feb. 28 and began getting into a routine of fitness and practice. Haney was working with Woods on the practice range earlier this week.

Two golf sources said former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer, who helped craft Mark McGwire's return to baseball from his self-imposed exile following allegations of steroid use, has been working with Woods to chart a course for Woods' return to professional golf, the Post reported.

"[Woods and Fleischer] were in his living room this week going over a strategy for how to handle Bay Hill in two weeks," one source said, according to the report.

A second source said, "I would be shocked if he didn't play the Arnold Palmer," according to the Post.

Woods has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill six times, claiming four straight titles from 2000 through 2003 and two more in 2008-09.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.