TIGER WOODS last night withdrew from his own Chevron World Challenge tournament due to begin at the Sherwood Country Club in the Thousand Oaks suburb of Los Angeles on Thursday.
In a brief statement, Woods cited injury as the reason for his absence from a tournament that he has been hosting since its inception in 1999. The injury, previously described as “facial lacerations”, was caused in the now famous incident outside his luxury home in Windermere, Florida last Friday night.
The uncertainty surrounding what happened on that occasion and rumours that it was caused by a row with his wife Elin as the result of magazine allegations of an extra-marital affair will only deepen over the coming days, weeks and months.
Given that he will not proceed with a planned pre-tournament press conference this afternoon, he can hardly complain that, in the failure to provide a frank and plausible explanation for what happened at his home, the damage already inflicted on his hitherto squeaky clean image can only increase a thousand fold the longer he remains tightlipped.
The following statement was posted on Woods’s web site at 8 o’clock last night.
Due to injuries sustained in a one-car accident last week, Tiger Woods will be unable to play in the 2009 Chevron World Challenge.
“I am extremely disappointed that I will not be at my tournament this week,’’ Woods said. “I am certain it will be an outstanding event and I’m very sorry that I can’t be there.’’
“We support Tiger’s decision and are confident the strong field and excellent course will provide an exciting week of competition at the Chevron World Challenge,” said Greg McLaughlin, Tiger Woods Foundation President & CEO.
Woods will not participate in any other tournaments in 2009 and will return to action next year.
And that was it. No attempt at explaining away either the allegations of an affair with a New York nightclub hostess, Rachel Uchitel, as reported in the National Enquirer magazine, not even an apology to his fellow players for pulling out of this week’s tournament at the last minute. Many of those, including Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington, have travelled long distances to be there at a time of year when they might well have been happy to enjoy a long awaited end of season break.
Since its inception in 1999, the tournament has raised large sums of money for the Tiger Woods Foundation, in the process helping to promote his clean cut image (largely justified except for a few ill-timed expletives and frequent demonstrations of spitting) which now, however, could lie in tatters.
Woods generally makes news only because of what he can do with a golf club. Few other athletes have managed to keep their private lives so guarded or have a circle of friends so airtight when it comes to his private affairs. His wife was awarded a reported €150, 000 settlement and an apology from an Irish magazine that published a fake nude photo of her during the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club. And he received a $1.6m (€1m) settlement in a lawsuit against the builder of his yacht – named Privacy – for using his name and photos of the boat as promotional material.
Friday’s shenanigans took place at his $2.4m (€1.6m) home which is part of an exclusive subdivision near Orlando, a community set on an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a chain of small lakes. The neighbourhood, which is fortified with high brick walls and has its own security force, is home to several CEOs and other sports stars such as the NBA’s Shaquille O’Neal.
This week’s elite, 18-strong (provided a replacement can be found for Woods at short notice) field will vie for a first-place prize of $1.35m (€900,000) out of a pot of $5. 5m (€3.7m). For the first time, world ranking points will be on offer for a restricted player event and you have to suspect that Tiger’s lobbying prowess had much to do with a development sure to rankle with those who won’t be in L.A. this week.
“I think that has helped us attract the best field we’ve ever had,’’ said Woods early last week. “It should be an exciting week for the fans and I’m looking forward to competing.’’
That was then, this is now. But he was right when claiming that his tournament had attracted a top-class field. Three of 2009’s four major winners are entered: Lucas Glover (US Open); Stewart Cink (British Open); and YE Yang (PGA Championship) along with the new European Tour number one Lee Westwood.
Defending champion Vijay Singh will also participate. Last year, he made an eight-foot birdie putt on the difficult par 4 18th to edge Steve Stricker by one stroke. The field includes Stricker, a three-time winner this year and the third-ranked player in the world, and 2002 champion Pádraig Harrington. Paul Casey, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Anthony Kim, Sean O’Hair, Kenny Perry, Ian Poulter, Camilo Villegas and Mike Weir are also participating.
His victory in ‘02 when he went head to head down the stretch with Woods and beat him by two shots remains one of the highlights of Harrington’s career.
However, Harrington (who has improved one place to 5th in the world rankings) has more than the golf tournament on his mind over the next week or so. He has brought along his coach Bob Torrance, and they will take in visits to the Titleist Performance Institute where he will undergo a series of tests aimed at developing his game for next season’s assault on the majors.
Oddly enough, the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City runs against the Chevron Challenge. It, too, offers world ranking points with a win for Rory McIlroy, currently 10th, set to push the youngster ever closer to the top spot. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson defends and among those also taking part are Masters champion Angel Cabrera; the big home hope Retief Goosen and two top Americans, Hunter Mahan and Nick Watney.
Both tournaments will be shown live by Sky Sports, the South African event from 9 am and Tiger’s tournament from 8 pm to 11.
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