JACKSONVILLE, February 19 – Speculation reached fever pitch Friday ahead of the first public appearance by star golfer Tiger Woods since a slew of tawdry revelations that led to his stunning fall from grace.The world’s top golfer was slated to appear before a carefully chosen group of reporters for a tightly choreographed public statement.
Media trucks arrived at the site where the billionaire athlete was to speak the night before, but for all the attention it was unclear where Woods would be after the statement.
US PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem seemed to suggest that Woods was headed back to therapy.
"I don’t know what he’s going to do after he finishes his rehab," Finchem said this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
"In a vacuum we’d like him back as soon as possible — but we want him back importantly when he’s dealt with the issues he felt like he had to deal with."
There has been wild speculation about what Woods will say, with British bookmaker William Hill even issuing odds — 4-to-7 that his wife, Elin, will be with him; 8-to-1 that he will announce a divorce; 12-to-1 that his wife is pregnant, and 100-to-1 that he will retire.
"It’s a private matter, really, but he’s a public person," former Masters champion Bernhard Langer said from Boca Raton, Florida.
Woods was to deliver his remarks at 11:00 am (1600 GMT) at the PGA Tour’s headquarters at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse before a select group of journalists and a lone television camera.
The Golf Writers Association of America declined to participate as pool reporters, citing controls on the event.
"The position, simply put, is all or none," said Vartan Kupelian, president of the 950-member group.
"To limit the ability of journalists to attend, listen, see and question Woods goes against the grain of everything we believe."
Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg countered that the event was "not a press conference," adding that his client "wants to begin the process of making amends and that’s what he’s going to discuss."
No hint has been given as to what plans Woods might reveal, and whether the 14-time major champion will return soon to competition and his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles.
He has been photographed recently jogging and hitting golf balls, suggesting he is far from hanging up his golf shoes, but his future has been uncertain since November, when the married father-of-two crashed his car outside his Florida home, unleashing a scandal.
His squeaky clean image was quickly tarnished after a series of women came forward to allege affairs.
Both the tightly-controlled nature of Woods’ first public appearance and its timing have come under fire.
Friday will mark the third round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona and critics have noted that consulting firm Accenture was one of the first companies to sever ties with Woods amid the scandal.
South African golfer Ernie Els told Golf Week magazine that Woods was "selfish" for taking attention away from a tournament
A spokesman for Accenture noted Thursday that Woods would speak several hours before play got underway.
"If he really wanted to interfere with the tournament, they would have run it during the tournament, so I think it’s coincidental," said Fred Hawrysh, Accenture’s director of corporate communications.