World awaits Tiger's return


JACKSONVILLE, February 19 – Tiger Woods will lift the veil – at least slightly – on Friday when the world's top golfer makes his first public comments since a sex scandal sparked his spectacular fall from grace.
At 11 a.m. Eastern Time (1600 GMT), Woods will speak to a select group of journalists and before a lone television camera in the clubhouse of the TPC Sawgrass, headquarters of the US PGA Tour.

Just what Woods will have to say has unleashed a wave of speculation – just as the lurid revelations of marital infidelity set off an avalanche of speculation about his private life late last year.

While only one television camera will be allowed in the room, the event is to be aired live on US networks, along with various sports cable channels.

Those tuning in will get a no-doubt carefully crafted statement delivered in a fiercely controlled environment, with Woods taking no questions from those present.

"This is not a press conference," Woods’s agent Mark Steinberg said.

Steinberg said Woods "wants to begin the process of making amends and that’s what he’s going to discuss."

But 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.

British bookmaker William Hill has issued a set of odds concerning the event, offering odds of 4-to-7 that Woods’s wife, Elin, will be with him.

They offer 8-to-1 odds that Woods will announce he and Elin are divorcing, 12-to-1 that his wife is pregnant, and 100-to-1 that he will retire.

But the latest images of Woods suggest he is far from hanging up his golf shoes.

On Wednesday the 34-year-old golfer was photographed jogging in the Florida sunshine, while on Thursday photographers snapped him hitting golf balls at a facility near his home in Windermere.

The images were a far cry from the last purported photo of Woods to be published: a grainy shot carried by the National Enquirer on January 21 that showed a man said to be Woods with a black hooded jacket over his head and shoulders outside a sex rehabilitation clinic in Mississippi.

The married father of two became tabloid fodder in November, when a mysterious car crash outside his Florida home unleashed a scandal that saw the billionaire athlete’s squeaky clean image tarnished over allegations of affairs with a stream of women.

Woods dealt with the scandal by disappearing from public view, limiting his comments to sparse statements on his website that eventually included an admission of infidelity and announcement that he was taking an "indefinite break" from golf.

His insistence on strictly controlling his first public appearance has prompted some criticism, as has his timing of the statement.

Consulting firm Accenture was one of the first companies to sever ties with Woods amid the scandal, and Friday will mark the third round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

While 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.

"It was deliberately done so we’d have a big window between (Woods) and when we teed off at noon local time," Fred Hawrysh said. "If he really wanted to interfere with the tournament, they would have run it during the tournament, so I think it’s coincidental."