What are the chances of Tiger Woods' "indefinite break" from golf amounting to a "one-tournament break"? Rumours intensified in golfing circles yesterday that the world No 1 is set to make a return to competition in 11 days' time at the WGC World Match Play Championship in Tucson.
Reports of an unexpectedly quick comeback for Woods first surfaced in Australia on Wednesday. Initially they were dismissed as wildly speculative, not least because Woods has been at a sex addiction clinic in Mississippi for the last few weeks. But a former professional, with strong contacts, yesterday indicated Woods is set to play in Arizona. When asked how likely it is he replied: "Bank on it."
Last night, Radio Five were also reporting the story, citing their own sources. It was also reported that Woods left the rehab centre yesterday in the company of his wife, Elin.
Most in golf will not believe it until Woods posts his entry to the 64-man event. He has until Friday to do so and it is understood the PGA Tour would be "very surprised" by a Woods entry. What makes it seem so improbable is the identity of the Match Play sponsors. Accenture were one of the first to drop him in the wake of all the revelations of extra-marital affairs. Would Woods be prepared to give so much publicity to a company which chose not to stand by their man? What would the companies say who had remained loyal?
There are other questions which make a Tucson return appear fanciful. Woods has not been seen in public since crashing into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home at the end of November. This caused him to miss his own event, the Chevron World Challenge in California, the next week. Then he announced in December he would be taking an "indefinite break" from the game. If he did show up at the Match Play, the only event where he would have been sure to tee it up in between would have been last week's Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. In truth, players have taken longer breaks for their holidays.
However, Woods did return at Tucson last year following his eight-month absence due to knee surgery. And the head-to-head format may make for a gentler reintroduction (indeed he might only last two days like last year). Most matches finish before reaching the 18th green – where the majority of would-be hecklers are.
What might also make it attractive to Woods is that the deadline for media accreditation has passed. Saying that, last year the event organisers did allow for late requests and revealed that after Woods committed to play the number of accredited media rose from 350 to 500.
Neither organisers nor the local police have been informed of an imminent Woods arrival. "We don't know anything officially yet, but wouldn't that be nice?" said Wade Dunagan, executive director of the Match Play.