Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 19 News List

US PGA Tour hopes Tiger Woods will return to play soon

AP , MIAMI, FLORIDA

Jack Nicklaus holds the record in major championships, one that might never be broken because it was established through decades of superior golf and a few good breaks. About the only player who has even a remote chance is Tiger Woods.

This record is about playing, not winning.

And while Woods is still more than 25 years away from matching Nicklaus' record of 146 consecutive starts in the majors, it's worth noting now because Woods has not played since the final round of the Masters six weeks ago. And it might be even longer before he returns to the US PGA Tour as he grieves the death of his father and adjusts to life without him.

Conventional wisdom has been that Woods will play next week at the Memorial, where he has won three times.

"I think Tiger will probably play," Nicklaus said over the weekend. ``If he doesn't play, that's certainly his choice.''

Nicklaus, the tournament host, was only guessing, which is all anyone can do.

Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at IMG, is known in some quarters as "Dr. No" for his propensity to turn down up to 100 requests a day, sometimes without even listening to them. These days, he might as well be called "Dr. I Don't Know," because he doesn't.

"At this point, it's undecided," Steinberg said on Tuesday.

The deadline to enter the Memorial is Friday, and whether Woods decides to play probably will draw more attention than anything that happens at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.

The assumption is that Woods will want to play at least once before the US Open.

If he doesn't play in the Memorial, that will be nine weeks away from tournament golf before the US Open, which would constitute the longest layoff of his career. There have been three times that Woods did not play a regular US PGA Tour event before a major -- three weeks off between the British Open and US PGA Championship in 1999, and four weeks off between the US Open and British Open in 2002, when he missed the Western Open with the flu.

But that assumes he will play in the US Open. And no one can say with certainty that he will.

It would be surprising if Woods skipped a major, but not shocking.

Not in this case.

Earl Woods died on May 3 at home in Cypress, California, the same house where Tiger climbed out of a high chair, grabbed a golf club and imitated his father by hitting a ball into a net -- left-handed until Pops turned him around to the right side. Subsequent lessons on the golf course were more about father-son than father-prodigy.

Earl did not live vicariously through his son. His goal was for Tiger to take full control of his life, which he did.

But no son mourns the loss of his father the same, and nobody knows how long it takes until he is ready to move on. Earl also left behind a wife of 32 years, and Tiger no doubt is still tending to his mother.

"We haven't had any indication that he's not going to play," US Golf Association spokesman Marty Parkes said on Tuesday.

The US Open ends on US Father's Day, as usual, and what a tribute that would be. The last time a major was played at Winged Foot, Davis Love III won the PGA Championship, making a birdie on the final hole as a glorious rainbow stretched across the horizon and tears were shed in remembrance of his father, a US PGA professional who died in a plane crash in 1988.

"Tiger is going to be in the same boat as me," Love said on Tuesday. "Every time he goes to play golf, he'll think of his father. That's not going to change. It's going to be hard for a while, but it'll also be a positive for him down the road."

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