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Tiger Woods plans to remain out of golf until at least the Masters with a onetime adviser to President George W. Bush not saying whether he’s been brought on board to help plot the star athlete's return to the links, The Associated Press reported late Thursday.
Two people, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, said Woods was likely to make the announcement that he will make his return at Augusta National in the first week of April.
That contrasts with an earlier report in the New York Post that cited two sources in the golf world who said Woods was aiming to return to pro golf at the Arnold Palmer Invitational starting March 25 at Bay Hill in Orlando.
Palmer himself reportedly has told some close confidants that Woods is definitely playing Bay Hill. Quietly, the people running the tournament are preparing for a larger-than-usual media crush, the paper reported.
The Post also reported Woods had hired Bush’s former spokesman Ari Fleischer to help smooth his path back to the links.
Fleischer said in an e-mail to the AP he could neither confirm nor deny that Woods was a client.
Fleischer, who was Bush's press secretary from January 2001 to July 2003, started a sports PR firm after leaving the White House and recently helped steroid-tainted slugger Mark McGwire in his bid to repair his image.
Meanwhile, Mark O’Meara, Woods’ longtime friend and neighbor, told Golf Channel Wednesday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see Woods make his anticipated return at the Tavistock Cup, a made-for-TV inter-club event on March 22-23 at Isleworth, Woods’ home course outside of Orlando.
“It’s been a rough road the last three or four months in Tiger’s life and his family’s life,” O’Meara said. “It’s a very difficult situation. Golf is what Tiger does, and possibly part of the healing process is to get back at it.”
Woods dropped out of sight in the aftermath of a wee-hours car crash outside his mansion near Orlando on Thanksgiving night. In the weeks that followed, a parade of women came forward to say they had affairs with the married father of two. Two weeks ago, Woods made a carefully orchestrated live appearance in which he apologized for his womanizing and said he'd been getting treatment for an unspecified problem.