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The Loop

Tea Leaves: Tiger back at Bay Hill

March 04, 2010

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. --- Looking for more circumstantial evidence that Tiger Woods' first PGA Tour event after his "indefinite leave" might be the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill? Try this on for size. Tournament organizers announced Thursday that Steve Stricker is going to play. As the legendary comedy group Firesign Theater would say: "But what of that?"

Here's what those who like to read tea leaves can insert between the lines of this story. Stricker hasn't played the Bay Hill event since 2005. So what might have lured him back this time? Well, Stricker is a long-time friend of Woods and they partnered very successfully at the Presidents Cup. Stricker was also the college roommate of Mark Steinberg, the managing director of golf for IMG and the agent for both Woods and Stricker.

Add that to the fact the Arnold Palmer event is played just down the street from Woods' home in Windermere, Fla., it is a tournament where he has had great success, it is run by IMG, he would have Palmer on hand to help handle the media and it comes two weeks before the Masters, giving him a chance to tune-up for the first major of the year, and pieces start to fall together.

Of course, this is all speculation, but that pretty much has been what all the reporting on this bizarre saga has been since Nov. 27. Bottom line is that we will know Woods is back when he tells us he is back. But lump the Stricker announcement in that category of portraits appearing and disappearing from the walls of the Kremlin. All we can do is read between the lines. But what of that?

-- Ron Sirak