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AP sources: Woods likely to return at Masters

DORAL, Fla. (AP) - Tiger Woods intends to remain out of golf at
least until the Masters, two people with knowledge of his plans
told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Woods has been practicing at Isleworth near his Orlando home the
last two weeks, and swing coach Hank Haney flew there during the
weekend to work with him. That led to speculation Thursday he was
close to playing again.
The two people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because only
Woods is supposed to release such information, say he is likely to
play first at Augusta National in April.
Woods twice has gone nine weeks without competing before showing
up at a major. The first time was in 2006, when he didn't play
after the Masters while coping with his father's death, then missed
the cut in a major for the first time in the U.S. Open at Winged
Foot. Two years ago, he was out with knee surgery until winning the
U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on a shattered left knee.
Woods has not played since Nov. 15, when he won the Australian
Masters in Melbourne for his 82nd career victory. Twelve days
later, he crashed his SUV into a tree near his Florida home,
setting off shocking revelations that he had been cheating on his
wife.
In his first public appearance Feb. 19 at the TPC Sawgrass, when
he apologized for his behavior and confessed to having extramarital
affairs, he said he would return to golf and that "I don't rule
out that it will be this year."
There have been signs during the last few weeks he was getting
closer.
Woods returned from family therapy in Arizona on Feb. 28 and
began getting into a routine of fitness and practice. Haney was
working with Woods on the practice range earlier this week.
Mark Steinberg, his agent at IMG, came to the CA Championship at
Doral this week to do business - Steinberg also is the managing
director of golf for IMG, which conducts numerous tournaments
around the world.
Meanwhile, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer
declined to comment on reports that he had been brought on board to
help with Woods' return. Fleischer said in an e-mail to the AP he
could neither confirm nor deny that Woods was a client.
Several reports said Woods was planning his return at Bay Hill
for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he is the defending
champion and a six-time winner on a course that is a short drive
from his home.
Bay Hill is the only regular PGA Tour event that Woods has never
missed since turning pro.
Tournament director Scott Wellington already had made
contingency plans for media and security, as have other PGA Tour
events upon learning that Woods had returned to practice.
Wellington said he had not heard anything from Woods or his
management team.
"At this point, we still don't know," he said. "He has until
next Friday to commit. But it was a busy day, for sure. We had a
lot of calls, a lot of interest and we sold some tickets. It was
interesting."
Woods won at Bay Hill last year for his first victory since an
eight-month layoff from knee surgery.
He is a four-time Masters champion, setting records in 1997 as
the youngest winner with the lowest 72-hole score. The Masters is
more restrictive of media credentials than any other major, and it
is the one tournament where the media is not allowed inside the
ropes.
Tournament week is April 5-11.
Woods typically has a press conference on Tuesday of the
Masters, and the Champions Dinner also is held that night.
---
Associated Press sports writer Ron Blum contributed to this
report.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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