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Tiger Woods' Return: Too Soon or Just Right?

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As the day grinds on after news this morning that Tiger Woods will return to golf at the Masters tournament, all manner of people are weighing in on it. "It's about time," scream golf fans hungry to watch their favorite golfer on the course. "I knew it," blare the headline writers for electronic and print media who speculated that the Masters would be the venue for Woods' resumption of his interrupted career.

None of us know for sure what is going on between Tiger and Elin Woods. We know what we have been told by him which is that he has been in treatment for his behavior and understands, according to him, the devastation he caused in his family and marriage. But that doesn't tell us the state of affairs (sorry for that) between him and his wife, the prospects for the continuation of their marriage and ultimately if they can be happy together again.

After Tiger's public press conference and mea culpa in February, I interviewed Craig Gross, a minister who counsels many athletes with problems similar to that of Woods. At the time he told me that he liked what he heard that day and hoped Tiger had found a way out of the behavior that caused the equivalent of a nuclear bomb to go off in his life.

Gross made it clear to me however, that the length of time he stayed away from the PGA Tour would indicate to him whether the marriage would succeed or fail.

"If he is really serious he'll ignore golf for as long as it takes," Gross told me. "If we hear about a quick return to the Tour it will coincide with the announcement that his marriage is over."

When reached today by phone Gross told me that when he heard the news he was perplexed.

"I'm very skeptical," he said. "That's not a normal sign of what people do coming out of recovery."

Gross is now rethinking his acceptance of the truth he thought Tiger told at the press conference.From Gross' vantage point, Tiger's return to work indicates a lack of understanding about the time and focus it takes to truly recover, if in fact that is what he wants to do.

"It comes down to what he wants. Most people have to go back to work. He doesn't need to but he clearly wants to."

Gross says the return to golf sounds like an escape from the hard work necessary to get past the habits he says he wants to change.

I asked Gross why it wasn't reasonable to assume that Tiger could go down a dual path at this point and continue his therapy and behavior mod while working himself back into golf shape. His answer pointed to a true concern for what Elin's issues are all about. Trust is the first among them. Gross believes that she might not even realize how hard it will be for her to see him return to the "scene of the crime," so to speak.

I wondered aloud to him if any length of time would ameliorate the mistrust and the hurt she feels. Gross responded that while there is no magic formula for how long it can take, he believes that four months is not even close, since the run-up to the Masters has already begun. Tiger's been hacking away at golf balls with his coach Hank Haney for more than a week already and the preparation necessary to come back at a high level will be all consuming. That leaves very little time to continue the healing process.

Perhaps Gross' views come from a belief that Tiger has a true addiction rather than a behavior problem that was fixed when he was totally humiliated and scorned. But it's one man's opinion who works in that field. The rest of us can only relate it to things we're familiar with and few of us have any intimate knowledge of Tiger's dilemma. Thus, it's all speculation. Try and remember that when you read opinion pieces on the subject.

Paula publishes daily sports stories at

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