Spiralling scandal robs tournament of Tiger touch

THOUSAND OAKS, California: Tiger Woods’ rivals would rather see the world’s top golfer stalking the course than licking his wounds, but it won’t happen this week at the Chevron World Challenge.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Copies of Us Weekly magazine featuring the story on Tiger Woods and the interview with alleged mistress Jaimee Grubbs are seen for sale on the newstands in Beverly Hills. — AFP photo

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Copies of Us Weekly magazine featuring the story on Tiger Woods and the interview with alleged mistress Jaimee Grubbs are seen for sale on the newstands in Beverly Hills. — AFP photo

Woods is the host of the elite post-season event to benefit his charitable foundation.

But the superstar was back home in Florida as his guests prepared to tee off at Sherwood Country Club at 9.30 Thursday morning (1730 GMT), having responded to a spiralling scandal with a brief, cryptic apology via a website.

It remained to be seen if Woods’ request for privacy would be heeded and the storm of speculation and allegations taper off.

But an admission of “transgressions” from a man who has taken golf to unprecedented levels of popularity made for an awkward start to the week.

“I’m not going to kid you, it has taken a little bit of the life out of me being here, because I’m usually paired with him here in this event and very much look forward to playing with him the first round,” said golfer Steve Stricker.

“But we’ve still got to go on. We’ve still got to play in this tournament and make it a good one and help out his organisation. Hopefully he works everything out at home and gets back real soon.”

Woods, a 14-time major champion more used to making headlines for his pursuit of golf greatness, was plunged into a morass of media speculation with sketchy reports of a curious car crash in the early hours of last Friday.  Tabloid-fuelled rumours of marital strife between Woods and his wife, Elin, culminated in a magazine report of an affair between Woods and a cocktail waitress.

“It has been hard. Just to see what has been going on to him the last few days,” Stricker said. “It was a shock to see that first of all he was in a car accident, and then all the developments after that is obviously a shock, too.

“We all want him here,” Stricker added. “We all look up to the guy. We all admire what he does and has done on the golf course.”

America’s British Open champion Stewart Cink said the event, which features 18 players vying for a share of the US$5.75 million total purse, would have a different feel without Woods.

“The fans were excited about Tiger playing and with him not being here that’s unfortunate for them,” Cink said. “Certainly they love watching Tiger play.

“It’s also very unfortunate for all the rumours or whatever that are swirling around out there about individuals. I don’t really know what to say except that I just feel bad for their family that this is happening.”

Last year Woods didn’t play here because he was still recovering from knee surgery. But he was very much present as the figurehead of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which provides educational facilities and financial support to disadvantaged children.

This year, Woods’ late withdrawal had organizers offering a refund to fans who bought tickets in anticipation of seeing him.

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington said that based on reports of Friday’s car crash, Woods was probably not fit to play this week.

“I’m sure if I was unconscious for six minutes, I wouldn’t be playing golf the following week — wouldn’t be high on the agenda,” Harrington said.

“I think it’s tough for him because it’s his own event. I’m sure it was a hard decision to make.”

“I think the tournament itself will evolve very nicely once Thursday starts and guys get out there and play,” Harrington added. “But Tiger Woods is the biggest star in the game, it’s his event. He’s going to be missed.”

Harrington said the event would have been an ideal chance to hone the skills needed to take on Woods when it really matters — in golf’s major championships.

“I think guys always want to go head-to-head with Tiger… They want to improve their game, and the way to improve it is to play against the best.” Cink agreed.

“Any time you play in the field with Tiger, he is the measuring stick,” Cink said. “Whether he plays great or not you’re always conscious of where he is in the field. So, yeah, I’m disappointed not to be able to play against him.” — AFP

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