Fishy: something doesn't quite add up. Matt Rourke/AP/Press Association Images

Funny business: what's Tiger really up to?

Media speculation has been building about Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf, but mounting evidence seems to suggest that it could happen an awful lot later than anyone anticipated.

SINCE HIS ABORTIVE, nine-hole effort at the Player’s Championship, Tiger Woods has been keeping the golfing world on edge about the possibility of a sudden return to competitive golf.

With his few interviews since that withdrawal in May choosing to emphasise the importance of the healing process, we were led to believe that the former World Number One’s absence from the PGA Tour was simply a matter of physical recuperation. There were even rumours of casts and protective boots prior to the appearance of a healthy, if slightly heavy-looking, Woods at the AT&T Championship earlier in the month.

The appearance of several photos of Woods on gossip site TMZ this week, however, have prompted a re-evaluation of that narrative.

Showing the fourteen-time major champion scaling the bridge of his luxury yacht, the images seem to suggest that Woods is either a lot healthier than anyone suspected, or he’s not too concerned about safeguarding his left knee.

If common sense excludes the latter as a genuine possibility, a recent statement by his coach Sean Foley puts an interesting spin on the former.

According to a brief interview carried out by CBS Sports’ Steve Elling, the pair haven’t even begun to hit balls together:

“We have not hit any balls. And I have no idea what his plans are as far as when he plays again. It’s up to the doctors.”

Not only that, but as Foley was keen to stress in a separate interview with the Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard, he’s confident that were Woods to begin practicing, he’d be the first to know about it:

“I have seen him since [his injury] but we have just been chatting and setting a game plan for the future,” Foley said. “This time off has been an excellent opportunity for us to put in place a plan with the big picture in mind.”

Woods had been expected to make his competitive return at next week’s Bridgestone Invitational as a means of preparing for the year’s final major, the USPGA Championship. Given the current state of his preparation, however, his absence from both fields looks a near certainty.

Should that turn out to be the case, the PGA Tour’s biggest financial asset would be left with only one week in which to qualify for the lucrative FedEx Cup post-season. A failure to do so would leave Woods consigned to a lengthy break from the game, whether he wanted one or not.

Tiger making a mess of his achilles on the 17th hole during the third round of the Masters. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

This week’s developments seem to contradict Woods’ stated desire to return to competitive golf as soon as possible. If he’s healthy but uninterested in hastening his return to the game, it looks like he may have already made a decision to sit out the remaining months of 2011.

If that’s the case, the troubled golfer’s suspense-laden approach to the whole affair begins to look more and more like an elaborate PR set-piece, marketing sleight of hand designed to prevent public interest from waning as the troubled star takes a lengthy sabbatical from the PGA Tour.

See the photos at TMZ>

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