Crucial two weeks ahead for Tiger |

Crucial two weeks ahead for Tiger

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The mess Tiger Woods created for himself most likely will never leave him entirely. But the time is coming, and perhaps soon, when the focus shifts almost exclusively to his game, his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and his place in history.

That time is not this week at Quail Hollow.

And it probably won’t be the following week in front of the party crowd at The Players Championship.

The Masters was the safest place for Woods to return from golf after perhaps the swiftest and most spectacular downfall ever by a sporting icon. Augusta National is synonymous with good manners. People go to watch golf. But while it was his first public display of golf, no other tournament in the world (except for maybe the Tavistock Cup) is so private.

That’s what makes Quail Hollow such a big test.

The tournament is a sellout – even some of the caddies couldn’t scrounge up tickets for their friends – and these tickets were sold to general public. Security has been beefed up, as expected. Even that won’t keep someone from saying something stupid during the five hours or longer that Woods is on the golf course.

Are we back to normal?

Not quite.

Not when the PGA Tour sends out a notice that TV crews can begin setting up two hours before Woods’ interview at 9:10 a.m. Wednesday, and that print media can be seated 30 minutes before Woods speaks (which is the same time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is to hold his press conference).

And not when the tour limits the number of seats in the interview room and inside-the-ropes passes for each media outlet. That wouldn’t have happened a year ago. It might not happen a month from now.

Woods tees off Thursday at 4:40 a.m. on the 10th tee with British Open champion Stewart Cink and two-time major winner Angel Cabrera. That means he will be making his way along the “Green Mile” at Quail Hollow – as brutal a finishing stretch as there is in golf – on Friday afternoon when the crowd is gearing up for the weekend and has had plenty of refreshments.

The best tonic for Woods is playing golf because that’s what attracted so many people to him in the first place. It would help even more if he were to win, and he showed how close he might be with a tie for fourth at the Masters, despite not having played in five months. Still, even a victory pose in a red shirt won’t erase five months of sordid revelations.