The Tiger Woods saga has been rife with misinformation.
MIAMI -- In the darkest days for Britain early in World War II, when London was being pounded night after night by German bombers, prime minister Winston Churchill said of the Royal Air Force, the defender of the home front: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Churchill, who manipulated words the way Ben Hogan controlled a golf ball, also said: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
And back when Churchill made that observation about truth -- or the lack of it -- it took days for information to travel half the globe. Now that trek is made in the mere keystroke of a computer. All this is by way of saying that mostly what we know about Tiger Woods' return to competitive golf is what we don't know. The most quoted person since this story began Nov. 27 has been "a source speaking on the condition of anonymity," and that source has been wrong more often than not.
In other words, never has so much been reported about so few based upon so little. And never has news traveled so fast, sometimes conflicting stories crossing paths with each other as they circle the globe in opposite directions. For the better part of two weeks the hot rumor was that Woods' return would take place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, near Tiger's Florida home, with a possible tune-up at the Tavistock Cup, played the Monday and Tuesday of Bay Hill week at Isleworth, Woods' home course.
Now the latest word couched in anonymity is that the earliest Woods will be back is at the Masters. But the only thing we know for certain is that Woods has until 5 p.m. ET of March 19 to enter the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We also know this for certain: Until a return date is offered up that carries with it the name of Woods or his agent at IMG, Mark Steinberg, everything else is pure conjecture.
The cynic could speculate that misinformation is being disseminated here in order to get the media off the Bay Hill/Tavistock Cup scent. Anyone who follows politics knows that is a public relations tactic employed frequently. And certainly there is much reason to be cynical about this story.
But there is another detail that seems to be ignored by many covering this saga: As difficult as it is to believe for those who have watched the wondrous things Woods has done on the golf course over the last two decades, he is a human being vulnerable to human emotions. The revelations since Nov. 27 should remind us of that, and yet too often that fact is ignored.
There are those here at the CA Championship more than a little miffed that news involving Woods has upstaged the second consecutive World Golf Championship event. Remember, it was during the Friday of the Accenture Match Play that Woods issued his televised apology.
And it was just as Thursday's first round of the CA Championship was ending that word broke about Woods, Bay Hill and the Masters. That became not only the top golf story of the day -- and into the next day -- but also one of the main sports stories overall. Once again, outside-the-ropes jockeying was dominating inside-the-ropes action.
But those implying any intent to upstage the WGC event are ignoring the human factor. While the defense of the timing of the Feb. 19 apology as being necessary because of Woods' therapy schedule rings hollow – in the absence of any interaction with the press, it could have been taped and played at any time -- the Bay Hill information leaked out March 11 more likely reflects honest confusion within the Woods camp. Odds are Tiger isn't messing with us, he just doesn't know.
Think back on the worst mistake you've ever made and try to remember how you reacted. We have all been there. All of us. There were probably days when you greeted the dawn determined to kick the butt of the world and reclaim your lost glory.
And just as likely there were days when you opened your eyes, thought, "How could I have been such a blockhead" and did not want to get out of bed. The road to redemption has many twists and turns, some of which lead to dead ends before the proper path is located.
In trying to guess when Woods will return the focus has been on convenience for him, his success at the venue and it's usefulness as a preparation for the major championships. The real keys for determining the timing of Woods' return seem instead to be these: When will be ready to compete not only inside the ropes but also be capable of handling the inevitable and clearly enormous distractions outside them?
The best guess is that no one -- not even Woods -- has a clear idea right now of when he will be ready to return. Everyone wants it to be sooner rather than later. But it would not serve Woods well to return and shoot a 76 because either his game or his mindset or both was not ready for competition. Embarrassment is a most painful human emotion, one that shrouds this entire story.
Mostly, what we know about Woods' return is what we don't know. We also know that this story is likely to change several more times before long. We will know Woods is not playing Bay Hill at 5 p.m. on March 19, when the deadline passes. We will know he is playing the Masters when he or his agent or Augusta National chairman Billy Payne tell us so.
Meantime, we are like Churchill, waiting for the truth to put its pants on and catch up with the speculation running rampant across the globe. And the truth, in this case, resides entirely within Woods. He will be back when he feels he is ready to return. And not a moment sooner.