January 17, 2010

See You Soon?

Roger Federer's disclosure that he has spoken recenty to Tiger Woods has resumed the debate about when the superstar might return -- and what to expect from him when he'll be back

Roger Federer walked with Tiger Woods during a practice round at the CA Championship in 2007.

Roger Federer walked with Tiger Woods during a practice round at the CA Championship in 2007.

JUPITER, Fla. -- I was at the local Starbucks on Donald Ross Road at 6:30 Friday morning when a guy at the condiments bar struck up a conversation.

"Hey, aren't you that Tim Rosenthal?"

"Rosaforte, but that's all right. What's up?"

"I heard Tiger Woods is talking."

"Yeah, to who?"

"Roger Federer. Mike and Mike just had it on ESPN."

"Really?"

In the past four days I was told by a good source of at least one conversation Tiger had with a player. I heard from another good source that Stevie Williams, the caddie, was told to be ready for Torrey Pines. And I heard from a third good source that Tiger was hiding out at Sandy Lane in Barbados, site of his honeymoon.

"You know what he should do?"

"What should he do?"

"He should just go play. Forget the corporate stuff. Play 30 tournaments a year. Just play golf. Win 15 times in a year."

I was thinking, Tiger barely plays 15 times a year. Just imagine if he actually played 30 times a year. Would Tim Finchem and the networks love him, or what?

Tiger played 17 events last year, six in 2008 when he had two knee surgeries, 16 in 2007 when he was perfectly healthy, 16 in 2006, the year his father died. His last 20-plus season was 2005, when he won six of 21 events with four seconds and two thirds.

Thirty tournaments -- or even 25 -- is putting L.A., Pebble Beach and Scottsdale back on his schedule. It's throwing Palm Beach Gardens a bone by adding Honda into the Florida mix, then going back to the Dallas Metroplex again, returning to Colonial for the first time since 1997; and dropping by, even if it's just a cameo, in Canada on the way home from the British Open.

And how about adding places Tiger has never been: New Orleans, Hilton Head, Memphis, Hartford. Return to Quad Cities for the first time since Ed Fiori took you down. Instead of taking time away from the game as a penance, go the opposite way. As a show of goodwill, play them all! Tiger could come out of this like the second-coming of Bobby Jones. Or at least like the Tiger Woods of the fall of 1996, when he stopped by Endicott, N.Y., Las Vegas and San Antonio on his way to a tour card.

"Maybe he needs the money," said my new friend at the condiments bar.

I awoke from this writer's daydream to offer the perspective that Woods did do a lot of corporate work to film those commercials. That it would be hard to make $100 million a year in this particular climate. Suddenly, that $10 million to win the Fed Ex Cup has gone from spending money to a big chunk of Woods' earnings.

"It's been a while since Tiger had a monster year," I said as we walked to the parking lot. "Of course he won seven this year worldwide coming back from knee surgery, so maybe 15 is doable."

The guy was middle-aged, gray haired, in jeans and a golf shirt.

"Personally, I like Tiger Woods. I'd like to see him break all the records."

Obviously, the indiscretions did not matter. This particular guy in line at Starbucks didn't need the public apology, or the tearful Mark McGwire moment, because he didn't care about the corporate side or the destruction of an image. All he cared about is if I thought Tiger would ever live at the compound he's completing on Jupiter Island (guessing probably not), and when I thought Tiger would return (guessing Doral).

"Tiger should have been like Derek Jeter. He never should have got married."

I've been hearing that a lot since Thanksgiving. In other words, up until his own recent engagement, Jeter was the consummate bachelor, well paid and well respected. It works as a brand, and as an athlete. I laughed at the irony.

"Yeah, SI put him on their cover. He was Sportsman of the Year."