Golf

Ernie Els: Timing of Tiger statement is 'selfish'

Tiger Woods (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods of the USA answers questions from the media at a press conference ahead of the 2009...
GolfWeek Jeff Rude, GolfWeek
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MARANA, Ariz.

Tiger Woods isn’t playing the WGC-Accenture Match Play, a tournament he has won three times, but his presence is being felt here.

Like a dark cloud in Arizona sunlight.

In mid-December, Accenture dropped Woods as a commercial spokesman. Wednesday, the Woods camp dropped this little diversionary bombshell on the first day of Accenture’s PGA Tour event: Woods will be seen and heard Friday for the first time since his sex scandal began unfolding on Thanksgiving, leading to his indefinite leave from golf.

Woods will appear in an ultra-controlled setting, in line with his modus operandi of so many years. He will speak to a “small group of friends, colleagues and close associates” and discuss his past and future and apologize at an 11 a.m. (EST) televised gathering at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., according to a notice from his IMG agent, Mark Steinberg.

Curiously but not surprisingly, Woods will not answer questions, a dangerous choice in the midst of modern-day damage control. Rather, a limited number of print and wire service “pool” reporters will be allowed in the room and share their “notes, color and background” with other reporters.

As you might imagine, the Woods news swept through the desert here Wednesday, raising eyebrows and drawing ire for its timing. Friday happens to be the third day of the Accenture Match Play, a tournament already lessened by the absence of Woods and a vacationing Phil Mickelson.

Match Play? What Match Play?

“It’s selfish,” said Ernie Els, mincing no words. “You can write that. I feel sorry for the sponsor. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday. This takes a lot away from the golf tournament.”

In a brief telephone conversation Wednesday, Steinberg emphatically told me there was no intention to interfere with Accenture’s spotlight. He said he called one of the company’s executives “to give a heads up” and made sure the Woods’ statement would come “well outside the tournament’s TV window.” He added that “Accenture couldn’t have been more supportive.”

“It’s always good to get your information right before commenting,” Steinberg said of the criticism from Els and others. “It’s strictly a timing issue. There is a very good reason (to do it Friday) … and not do it next week.”

The agent would not say what the compelling reason is, why the statement couldn’t wait, but I got the sense we’ll know Friday. At any rate, this appears to be the opposite of the Army.

Army: Hurry up and wait. Woods: Wait and hurry up.

It is not known, either, what he will say. It is not known whether his statement will satisfactorily address key questions some might have — questions we may never get to ask — but I’ll bet everyone’s farm it won’t.

Questions like:

“How do you explain the behavior that led to the mess since Thanksgiving?”

“Who are you?”

“Why did you get married?”

“What have you learned?”

“Why did you pick a doctor linked to HGH?”

“Perkins?!”

It’s easier to guess what he will not say:

“Hello, world.”

“Next question.”

Word is the three pool reporters — yes, laughably, only three — will include a pgatour.com freelancer. Perception isn’t reality. But perception here isn’t pretty.

Damage control tends to lend itself to second-guessing, from crisis managers all the way to the guy on the bar stool. Players are in there somewhere.

“Timing-wise it’s not the best,” Sergio Garcia said of Woods’ latest move.

Rory McIlroy, 20, sounded a louder horn. “I suppose he might want to get something back against the sponsor that dropped him,” he said.

Curiously that quote was omitted from his interview transcript. When reporters objected to the omission, the Tour restored it on a new transcript, saying a new European media official took it out on his own to protect the sponsor.

It’s interesting, too, that Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he hasn’t talked with Woods and that his sponsor-driven Tour is involved in providing a facility for a gathering in which Woods will not field questions that sponsors might want answers to.

“I don’t know when he’s playing, what he’ll say or what he’ll do after he finishes his rehab,” Finchem said. “In a vaccum we’d like him back as soon as possible, but we want him back, more importantly, when he’s dealt with the issues he felt like he had to deal with to come back.”

The commissioner said he’ll attend the Friday event that promises to be a circus on the periphery at the least. The production will occur at Finchem’s home venue behind a guarded gate outside Tour headquarters. Not only will reporters not be allowed to ask questions for you — a public that has loaded his pockets with millions — but non-pool reporters will be shepherded to a hotel meeting room outside the gate.

We know this is controlling. It could also be construed as being gutless and selfish.

“He hasn’t accomplished anything if he doesn’t take questions,” said one longtime prominent golf agent. “Then there will still be questions. This isn’t coming clean. I don’t know what it accomplishes. Not answering questions is a big slap in the face to golf.

“I would have had him face the music at the earliest possible moment. The earlier you do it, the less speculation there is. He left it open to all kinds of speculation, which starts to be facts in people’s minds.”

We’ll get some facts Friday in what figures to be a scripted, well-rehearsed address. It’s up to Woods and his candor to determine whether his hole becomes bigger or smaller.

So far he’s off to a poor start.

Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.


Tagged: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia

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