Stricker: Tiger return may hurt tourney

DORAL, Fla. -- Steve Stricker is just like the rest of the golf world: curious about the return of the game's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods.

But Stricker said Saturday at the WGC-CA Championship that Woods making his return at the Masters -- as has been widely speculated -- would be an odd move and might take away from the year's first major championship.

"Hopefully he comes back before that," Stricker said at the Doral Resort. "You'd think as a player, being gone for so long, he'd want to come back before that.

"Whenever he comes back it's going to draw a lot of attention to that tournament and the focus is going to be on him coming back. I don't know if Augusta would like that to happen, you know? To turn it into Tiger's comeback instead of the Masters Tournament itself."

Woods, who has not played a tournament since winning the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, had been on an indefinite leave while he worked through personal issues after having admitted to marital infidelity.

But he returned to practicing two weeks ago and his coach, Hank Haney, met him at his Isleworth club early last week, heightening speculation that Woods would get back to competition sometime soon.

Among the likely spots for a return are the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Woods has won six times, including each of the past two years. Or the Masters, which begins April 8, where Woods has won four times.

Stricker, a friend of Woods who has not heard from him since the scandal unfolded, said if anyone could win the Masters without playing a tournament for months, it would be Woods. Still, it would be difficult.

"It's going to be hard for him to not only worry about playing but all the hype,'' said Stricker, who has risen to No. 2 in the world. "It's going to be intensified even more so than it has been. That's why I thought he'd come back for a tournament or two before that to get some of that put aside before Augusta.

"It would be great for him to come back and it be put to rest. Moving forward. I want him back. It gets the attention put on our game for the right reasons.''

NBC analyst Johnny Miller also suggested it would be good for Woods to play a tournament before the Masters.

"Tiger, with his talent, has the ability to have a big break and come out of the box pretty good,'' Miller said. "But I don't know. If he wants to win at Augusta, which he does, he's going to have to play Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill tournament. No doubt about that.

"I really believe he needs to get one tournament under his belt -- get the cobwebs out, get his confidence going. And you can't do that at the Tavistock [an exhibition before the Arnold Palmer Invitational]. You can't do that playing at Isleworth. You've got to play it under competition.

"Even if you don't play well at Bay Hill, you just have to get things going, get the train going down the tracks. The big thing of Bay Hill is that he's got to go through all the hoopla, not just of the sports coverage but the entertainment coverage. Get it out of his system. Answer the questions. Get it behind him. Go to Augusta and go ahead and win that Green Jacket.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.