- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

NAPLES, Fla. | Say Tiger Woods’ name around his PGA Tour colleagues, and the reactions are swift and varied.

From Mark Calcavecchia, there was disappointment.

Chris DiMarco, concern. Boo Weekley, unusual silence.

And from others, when pondering the worst-case scenario - Woods never playing golf again - there is fear.

“Golf needs Tiger Woods,” Brad Faxon said. “We wish them well and the best. I don’t know what the best thing to do is. Nobody does. But I know him on the golf course is good for everybody.”

Woods’ future is uncertain, his family forever affected by the infidelity he acknowledged Friday on his Web site when announcing his “indefinite” leave from the game. With that, a long shadow of doubt has been cast over golf, which has seen a financial boon since Woods stormed onto the scene and now can only wait and wonder what will happen with the world’s No. 1 player and the game’s biggest draw sidelined.

Will he come back?

When? Where? At what level?

There are far more questions than answers.

“The tour has got to be worried because what’s the definition of indefinite?” asked Greg Norman, the former world No. 1 and tournament host of the Shark Shootout this weekend. “Indefinite meaning, OK, it might be a year because a lot of issues have got to be resolved? That’s the word you’ve kind of got to drill in on.”

In Dubai, a tournament official said Sunday that Woods has not yet canceled plans to play in the Desert Classic there in early February. And they’re more than willing to wait for his decision, too.

When Woods was sidelined for eight months after his stirring win at the 2008 U.S. Open, television ratings were cut in half. Attendance is much higher when he is in a field, and even in a recession, it’s surely easier to sell sponsors on the merits of spending dollars to back an event that features Woods than not.

There’s real concern among tour players for Woods and his wife, Elin, and their two children.

There is also serious worry about the potential long-term effects for the tour as well.

“I don’t think it’s going to help anything, that’s for sure,” Nick Price said. “Especially in a recession like we’re in now. It’s hard enough to find sponsors out there, and now to try to sell things without Tiger in the field for however long it is, it’s going to be a challenge. I hope he comes back. I hope he comes back a changed man.”

Some of Woods’ sponsors aren’t interested in waiting to see whether that is the case.

Global consulting firm Accenture Ltd. announced it ended its relationship with Tiger Woods on Sunday, marking the first major sponsor to cut ties altogether with the golfer since his reported infidelities surfaced.

In its first statement since the Woods’ scandal erupted, Accenture said the golfer is “no longer the right representative” after the “circumstances of the last two weeks.” The move ends a six-year relationship during which the firm credited its “Go on, be a Tiger” campaign with boosting its image significantly.

However, a number of other sponsors have continued to support Woods.

Electronic Arts, whose EA Sports division has been selling Tiger Woods video golf games for a decade, said Sunday, “We respect that this is a very difficult and private situation for Tiger and his family. At this time, the strategy for our Tiger Woods PGA Tour business remains unchanged.”

The game’s next edition featuring Woods comes out in six months.

AT&T; said Sunday it continues to evaluate its relationship with the golfer. Watch maker Tag Heuer did not return a call Sunday, but its Web site continues to display photos of Woods’ wearing the Link and Golf Watch models.

Some fans aren’t as supportive as Woods’ sponsors though.

Take Dodie Mills, a 61-year-old pediatric nurse from Port Charlotte, Fla. She was at the Shootout to see Kenny Perry, among others, but says her real lure to watching and playing golf has been Woods.

Him, she wants to forgive.

Mills has much harsher words for the women to whom Woods has reportedly been linked.

“I think all the fame, all the money he has, all the women took advantage of it,” Mills said. “He and his wife love each other. I know they do, and Tiger will do what’s right. … I can understand how a man in that position can be very easily swayed by women. I was 23 once. He’s in his prime. All these women wanted a piece of him.”

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