Woods likely to return at Masters
DORAL: Tiger Woods intends to remain out of golf at least until the Masters, two people with knowledge of his plans told The Associated Press on Thursday.
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.
Woods twice has gone nine weeks without competing before showing up at a major. The first time was in 2006, when he didn't play after the Masters while coping with his father's death, then missed the cut in a major for the first time in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Two years ago, he was out with knee surgery until winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on a shattered left knee.
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 shocking revelations that 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.
Mark Steinberg, his agent at IMG, came to the CA Championship at Doral this week to do business — Steinberg also is the managing director of golf for IMG, which conducts numerous tournaments around the world.
Meanwhile, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer declined to comment on reports that he had been brought on board to help with Woods' return. Fleischer said in an e-mail to the AP he could neither confirm nor deny that Woods was a client.
Several reports said Woods was planning his return at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he is the defending champion and a six-time winner on a course that is a short drive from his home.
Bay Hill is the only regular PGA Tour event that Woods has never missed since turning pro.
Tournament director Scott Wellington already had made contingency plans for media and security, as have other PGA Tour events upon learning that Woods had returned to practice.
Wellington said he had not heard anything from Woods or his management team.
"At this point, we still don't know," he said. "He has until next Friday to commit. But it was a busy day, for sure. We had a lot of calls, a lot of interest and we sold some tickets. It was interesting."
Woods won at Bay Hill last year for his first victory since an eight-month layoff from knee surgery.
He is a four-time Masters champion, setting records in 1997 as the youngest winner with the lowest 72-hole score. The Masters is more restrictive of media credentials than any other major, and it is the one tournament where the media is not allowed inside the ropes.
Tournament week is April 5-11.
Woods typically has a press conference on Tuesday of the Masters, and the Champions Dinner also is held that night.