Tiger Woods to Return to Golf in April

Tiger Woods is returning to golf. One month after his public apology, Woods has announced he will compete at the Augusta National Golf Club’s Masters tournament this April. The Augusta site has Woods’ official statement:

“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta.

“The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it’s been a while since I last played.

“I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment. Although I’m returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life.”

Tiger Woods is returning to golf before salvaging or remaking his image, proving that he’s an athlete first, then a public figure. The New York Daily News quotes CBS president Sean McManus on what Woods’ return will mean for the media:

CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus can practically taste the ratings.

“I think the first tournament Tiger Woods plays again, wherever it is, will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years,” McManus told an SI.com reporter after the NCAA basketball tournament draw Sunday.

“It is hard to overestimate how much interest there will be,” McManus said. “Tiger Woods is the most famous, most recognized, most accomplished athlete in the world, and his celebrity and prominence is even larger than it was. When you look at the fact that he gave a very simple press statement with no questions and every broadcast and cable news network in America carried it with great interest, I think that is an indication that whatever he does has enormous interest. And whatever he does on the golf course for the first time since Thanksgiving will be of interest to almost every man and women in this country.”

Woods has also reportedly hired spin whiz and former Bush secretary Ari Fleischer to manage his new image. New York Magazine comments:

Fleischer worked with Mark McGwire after it was revealed that the baseball star had used steroids, and he’s helping Woods plan a strategy on how to rejoin the tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida at the end of the month. “They were in his living room this week going over a strategy for how to handle Bay Hill in two weeks,” a spy told the Post.

It makes sense Woods would call on Fleischer — he did just launch a sports communications firm specializing in scandal management in 2008, and he did answer tough questions for several years in the Bush White House. Woods is probably worried about having to speak in front of cameras without the protection of a pre-written statement, and possibly having to field some stinging inquiries from reporters who have thus far been barred from speaking with him.

Luckily for Tiger, the sports press is even more soft on its stars than the White House press corps is on the press secretary.

It’s early for Tiger to be making a PR comeback, judging by the size of his scandal. He needs to do more for his image than just play more excellent golf games. My guess is that people will be wary of Woods for some time to come, until it’s clear what he is (A reborn family man? A playboy?). Time to get a move on, Ari.

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