Woods will be determined to continue to dominate golf even though his major rivals may sense some vulnerability.
Beware the wounded Tiger
It will be a few weeks before Tiger Woods lets his golf do his talking for him, but regardless of any fresh revelations in his private life the world No 1 will start the new campaign in a defiant mood. Woods is expected to make his first tournament appearance of 2010 in the San Diego Invitational at La Jolla, California, at the end of January, and nothing is likely to break his resolve to continue to dominate the game.
While his actions have shaken the world of golf and shattered his role model status, Tiger can still emerge from it all, in his own mind at least, relatively unscathed as a golfer. It remains to be seen whether the damage to his image that has unquestionably been caused will have a major impact on his sponsorship earnings and appearance money, and this will be the biggest concern for Team Tiger. But while they may face a battle to keep the dollars pouring in from some directions in the wake of his problems off the course, they will not allow anything to get to their man once he is back striding the fairways of the PGA Tour.
The unwritten rule that you do not bother Woods with questions about his private matters will be driven home to the golfing media who know the penalty for breaking it means total exclusion from the interview roster. For some journalists that is tantamount to losing your job, and as access to tournament media centres is restricted to serious golf writers it means there will be no intrusions on Tour into the private world of Tiger Woods.
Protected from the media glare by his gated community home at Isleworth, Florida, we can expect to see and hear little from him before San Diego, and once back on course he will feel totally comfortable and ready to rack up the FedEx and world ranking points and dollars. There has never been a golfer as single minded as Tiger, and while this may have led him into trouble in his personal life, it will also make sure he does not allow events of the past two weeks to switch his focus from what he values above all.
He sees the No 1 spot as his own, and while his contemporaries have, almost without exception, tended to have basically the same view for the past few years, that could be about to change. To his biggest rivals, Tiger suddenly looks vulnerable rather than invincible. He still believes he can dominate, but they will feel he can now be dislodged. He is no longer perceived as a man without a weakness and one incapable of making bad decisions.
He has lost the respect of fellow professionals and that could translate into a new belief among players who, until now, have generally played in fear when going head to head with him. Tiger's confession of guilt and remorse and apologies to his family will only encourage golfers who saw him as a perfect specimen to try harder to beat him. The world No 2 Phil Mickelson will need no extra encouragement.
The pair have never been the best of friends, and Mickelson is the one player in the world who refused to accept that Tiger was a superior golfer. He rediscovered his old putting magic towards the end of last season and beat Tiger on two occasions, firstly in the Tour Championship at the climax to the FedEx Cup and then in the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai. We could now see more players adopt a Mickelson-like attitude.
The South African Ernie Els has always had the ability to rise above Tiger but lacked sufficient self belief and he may now find more of that available. If Tiger is to lose the support of any sponsors and should some of the appearance money no longer be forthcoming as the fall out from the tabloid stories continues, this is only likely to be a short term phenomenon. People have short memories, and Team Tiger are already working round the clock to protect the brand that is the world's No 1 golfer.
If he has been hurt by what has happened, and I suspect the emotional scars will not run deep, he will go to San Diego next month in a business-like mood to repair the damage. Before then he has a good deal of work to do to strengthen his game. Despite another dominant season on the PGA Tour he was not able to improve his haul of 14 major victories and often relied on his scrambling ability to get ahead.
In the middle of the year he took the decision to work less in line with the teachings of coach Hank Haney and took a more personal direction with the result that his swing did improve over the last few months. But he knows that there are still big improvements to be made if he is to reproduce the kind of golf he is capable of next year, and there are a number of players now ready to pounce if Tiger fails to produce the goods.
Meanwhile, no sooner had the inaugural Race to Dubai reached its climax than the second running of the competition gets under way today with the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek CC, in Malelane, South Africa. Many of Europe's big names are missing as they take a break after a long, arduous season, although Dubai is back in the spotlight again, with Michel Wie headlining in the Ladies Masters at the Emirates Golf Club.
With her first win as a professional now behind her, Wie has the world at her feet again, and I see 2010 being her biggest year yet. Former European and US Tour player Philip Parkin www.philparkin.com is a member of the TV golf commentary team for the BBC in the UK and Golf Channel in the US. firstname.lastname@example.org