Stricker warns Woods over Masters

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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods has been urged by the world No 2, Steve Stricker, not to turn the first major of the season into the "Tiger Comeback Tournament" – for the sake of his rivals and the Masters.

The world No 1 is thought to be considering skipping an anticipated return at next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational to go straight to Augusta in two weeks' time. While that may make sense from a PR point of view, his close friend clearly believes it would not be fair to the Masters.

"Whenever he comes back it's going to draw a lot of attention to that tournament," said Stricker. "I don't know if Augusta would like that to happen, you know? To turn it into 'Tiger's Comeback Tournament' instead of the Masters tournament, itself. Hopefully, he comes back before then. You'd think, as a player, being gone for so long, he'd want to come back before."

Stricker then went on to sum up the uncertainty in the game at the moment, saying: "Until you hear it from Tiger Woods and his agents, it's still speculation. We'd like to know one way or another, for sure. Everybody would. It gets to the point where you're saying, like, 'C'mon, just make up your mind and tell us where you're playing because we're all dying to know anyway'."

Woods will return "pretty soon" according to the commissioner of the PGA Tour. "I'm as excited as everybody else to see him back. I hope this spring, but my sense is that we'll know pretty soon," said Tim Finchem. "Everybody's done looking back at the circumstances that resulted in him stepping away from the game and we are now focused on when he's going to play golf."

If only. Woods is still attracting the salacious headlines and his appointment of Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary of President George W Bush, has hardly helped in the perception of a contrite individual wishing to display nothing but honesty. Woods' decision whether to head to Augusta without a prep event is expected in the next few days, though it is believed he will play in next week's Tavistock Cup, an exhibition match played on the course of his gated community in Orlando.

Ernie Els ended the longest drought of his professional career last night with a four-stroke victory in the WGC CA Championship in Miami. The South African re-entered with his first win since the 2008 Honda Classic. Compatriot Charl Schwartzel was second with Ireland's Padraig Harrington in a tie for third.