March 11 — Tiger Woods has done it again. With reports that the world’s top golfer has hired flack Ari Fleischer to pave his comeback to competitive golf at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in two weeks, Woods rumors had overshadowed yet another PGA Tour tourney.
With the immortal Charl Schwartzel and Francesco Molinari sharing the lead with Vijay Singh during the opening round of this week’s WGC-CA Championship opening round, the news, for a change, was all about Woods.
Tiger buzz. The Web has been abuzz about reports that Woods hired flack-to-the-stars (or, at least, to President George W. Bush and admitted steroid-user Mark McGwire) Fleischer, in anticipation of the golf ace’s imminent return to the course.
“They were in [Woods’] living room this week going over a strategy for how to handle Bay Hill in two weeks,” a source “in the golf community” reportedly told The Post.
Shocked! A similar source said he “would be shocked” if Woods did not tee it up at Palmer’s event.
Woods’ choice of Fleischer, who the New York Post said was “plotting a strategy” for Woods’ golf comeback at Arnie’s Bay Hill, is a good move, according to Boston public relations expert Peggy Rose.
Street fighter. Rose likened the response Woods will likely receive upon his return to political street fights that Fleischer dealt with daily.
“Tiger could use someone like Ari, who can have his back and fight back at any backlash,” said Rose, president of Peggy Rose Public Relations. “Ari’s a good guy to navigate the days to come for Woods.”
While the world’s number one golfer worked on his game with his swing coach, Hank Haney, Team Tiger apparently hired Fleischer to help Woods parry thrusts from reporters. Media members have just a few questions they were prohibited from asking during Tiger’s recent orchestrated apology.
Still, some golf observers might wonder about Woods hiring the PR pro who worked with McGwire before the ‘roids-tainted ex-home run king met the press recently. Many baseball watchers met McGwire’s presser with a touch of skepticism, to say the least.
Fleischer, who served as Dubya’s press secretary from 2001 to 2003, formed Ari Fleischer Sports Communications in 2008. The company, which purports to put out PR fires, is a joint venture with Woods’ management firm, IMG Sports & Entertainment, according to the Post.
Bay Hill ahead. Meanwhile, Woods’ appearance at Bay Hill, following an expected showing at the unofficial Tavistock Cup, and prior to the Masters, seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
“I would not be surprised if Tiger plays,” Mark O’Meara, who captains Woods’ Isleworth Golf & Country Club team, told the Golf Channel. “Hank has come to town and they’re working on stuff they normally work on. I know it’s been a rough road these last three months for him and his family, but golf is what Tiger does. The Tavistock Cup might be a right fit to come back. Play that event and then, maybe, Bay Hill straight afterwards.”
Certainly, Woods’ fellow golfers seem to believe they’ll be playing with Tiger at Bay Hill.
More buzz. “Bay Hill is always one of those places you look forward to getting back to,” Davis Love III said on the Bay Hill Web site, “but I think there’s even a little bit more of a buzz about it this year.”
He may have been talking about the design changes to the Bay Hill golf course, but Ernie Els echoed what many golfers likely believe about Woods’ coming-out party.
To say the least. “I think it could be a very interesting week,” said Els, who won at Bay Hill in 1998.
Woods boosters and detractors may want to circle the date: March 25 at Bay Hill in Orlando, FL.
As for how Fleischer will help Woods meet the press, Rose offered some suggestions:
- Craft quotes describing Woods’ first day back on the course
- Provide reporters with daily quotes as Woods goes about his comeback
- Set up question-and-answer sessions with media hordes
- Organize one-on-one sit-downs with network news reporters
- Stage photo-ops, with or without Woods’ wife, Elin Nordegren and/or his two children
- Instruct Woods how to react (or not react) to potential on-course heckling
One tactic Rose recommended for dealing with unruly crowds sounded like a pointer from Haney.
“Just keep your head down,” Rose said.
Any doubt that Woods will play the Masters this year? Read how Tiger’s Web site offered more than a hint that the rehabbed golf ace will go after his 15th major in April.