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Archive for December 28th, 2009|Daily archive page

Philippine politician murdered in ambush: police

In World on December 28, 2009 at 11:00 am

A local Philippine politician was killed on Monday when hooded gunmen opened fire on a convoy carrying about 50 people in another explosion of election-linked violence, police said.

A local politician was killed after gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying about 50 people in the Philippines on Monday, police said, echoing a horrific election-linked massacre last month.

The ambush in the northern province of Ilocos Norte came barely a month after a massacre of 57 people in the south highlighted a brutal culture of political violence that has long existed in the Southeast Asian nation.

In Monday’s assault, four hooded men shot at the convoy of 50 people carrying candidates and supporters of the opposition Nationalista Party after the group had left a Christmas party in the town of Dingras, local police said.

Joen Caniete, who was running for a seat on the Dingras council in next year’s national elections, was riddled with bullets and died immediately, provincial police director Senior Superintendent Benjamin Lusad said.

Six other people travelling in the convoy, including two village officials and a police escort, were wounded, according to Lusad.

The Nationalista Party, headed by millionaire property developer Manny Villar who is running second in opinion polls ahead of the May presidential election, expressed outrage at the attack.

“The Nationalista vows justice for the victims as we search for swift and comprehensive solutions to end political violence and the culture of impunity,” party spokesman Gilbert Remulla said in a statement.

“We also call and challenge all political parties and candidates for the 2010 elections to help in establishing clean, honest and peaceful elections as we move the country forward to peace and prosperity.”

Ilocos Norte election supervisor Alipio Castillo said Dingras may need to be put under special government control during the election campaign to prevent even more violence and cheating.

He said an electrical utility official who planned to run for mayor of Dingras had also been shot dead two months ago.

“Rule of law must and will prevail, not banditry,” Castillo said.

Ilocos Norte is the political stronghold of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s family.

His son and namesake, is currently one of the province’s lower house members of parliament and is running for a Senate seat next year.

The late dictator’s wife, Imelda, is planning to run to replace Ferdinand Jnr in the lower house seat and is regarded by political analysts as a certainty to win.

However election violence infests the whole of the Philippines, not just Ilocos Norte, as evidenced by the massacre of 57 people in the southern province of Maguindanao last month.

A son of the then-Maguindanao governor has been charged with murder over the massacre, which authorities alleged he organised to prevent a rival politician from challenging him for a provincial post in next year’s elections.

Relatives of the rival politician, plus journalists and lawyers, were among those abducted and shot dead in the Maguindanao massacre.

President Gloria Arroyo’s government has vowed to try to stem the violence ahead of the elections, when positions from local councils to the nation’s presidency will be contested.

But in a nation where more than one million unlicenced guns flow freely among a population of 92 million, and with local politicians often having reputations for being warlords, more killings are widely expected.


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Vietnam Airlines to get 16 planes in 2010

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2009 at 7:50 am

National flag carrier Vietnam Airlines is scheduled to receive 16 Airbus A321 aircraft in 2010 to expand its fleet of 58 planes.  

The corporation has transported about 9.3 million passengers this year, including more than six million on domestic routes, increasing by 16% on the year before.

The airline plans to open new routes to Northeast Asia next year.

The carrier’s current fleet includes Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Vietnam Airlines also plans to expand the fleet to 104 planes by 2015 and raise that number to 150 by 2020.

Also in 2010, Vietnam Airlines will join SkyTeam, a global airline alliance with eleven members and three associate carriers.

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Youth undertake environmental awareness campaign

In Vietnam Environment on December 28, 2009 at 7:49 am

More than 1,000 young people from 11 cities and provinces around the country took part in an environmental awareness program on December 27. The youth rode bicycles and performed activities aimed at raising awareness about the negative impacts of using plastic bags.

Young people in Ho Chi Minh City create pictures using plastic on December 27 to spread a message about the importance of environmental protection. (Photo: Tuoi Tre)

The event was organized by the Global Citizen Program, Vietnam Association for Conversation of Nature and Environment, and the Cycling For Environment (C4E) club.

In Ho Chi Minh City, more than 30 young people gathered at Tao Dan Park, District 1 for a cycling tour in the city.

Others created pictures using plastic to spread a message about the importance of environmental protection.

La Thuy Diem Hang, a student from the HCM City University of Science said she hopes that as a result of the project, people will reduce their use of plastic bags.

On the same day, more than 10,000 students took part in a walk at Tan Phu Ward, district 7 to raise funds to build 200 toilets for Vietnamese children. The event was organized by the Ho Chi Minh City Committee of HCM Communist Youth Union in collaboration with Vietnam Unilever Company.

Vim, a trademark of Vietnam Unilever, donated VND 1.5 billion during the walk to start the publicly-funded project.

In Hanoi, members of C4E created a large globe out of plastic measuring 2 meters in diameter. The model will be sold at auction with the money going to buy lifejackets for children who live near waterways.

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White House warns foes on terror politics

In World on December 28, 2009 at 7:48 am

The White House warned political foes Sunday not to provoke a partisan tug of war over terrorism, with President Barack Obama yet to publicly address the thwarted attack on a US airliner.

US soldiers in Afghanistan

A political storm erupted over the attempt by a 23-year-old Nigerian to bring down a Northwest jet carrying 290 people, as senior Obama aides cranked up a sweeping national and homeland security operation.

But the president, vacationing in Hawaii, conspicuously has not commented on television about the Christmas Day drama, apparently seeking to project calm and avoid the political trauma and panic unleashed by past terror incidents.

“The president believes strongly that this has to be a non-partisan issue,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told NBC in one of a string of television appearances he and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made Sunday.

“This should not be a tug of war between the two political parties. I hope everyone will resolve in the New Year to make protecting our nation non-partisan — rather than what happens in Washington, devolving into politics,” he said.

Obama got a 6 am (1600 GMT) briefing on latest developments in the probe into the airborne terror bid from top national security aides, the White House said in the latest regular bulletin on his response to the crisis.

He later quickly convened a fresh secure teleconference with top advisors, after a second alert aboard another Amsterdam-Detroit flight Sunday, though the incident turned out to be a false alarm triggered by a disruptive passenger.

Gibbs also said that Obama ordered a review of US no-fly watch-lists and demanded information on how a suspected radical could board the Detroit-bound airliner rigged with explosives.

But the president’s Republican foes made the first political thrusts following Thursday’s attack on a Northwest jet heading to Detroit, accusing him of softening the US focus on radical Islamic terror threats.

They also questioned Napolitano’s statement that the air security system “worked,” referring to the fact that alert passengers and crew jumped Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before his device could fully detonate.

New York Congressman Peter King said there was no need for Obama to “rush for a microphone” but noted the president’s media ubiquity over the past year and asked him for a “calm, reassuring” pep talk.

“Tell the American people, ‘this is what we’re doing; we’re on top of this; we’re going to win, but this is a reminder of why we always have to be alert to the evils of Islamic terrorism,'” King told CBS.

“There has been a virtual vacuum for the last day- and-a-half.”

The White House countered that Obama has constantly monitored the situation, ordered probes into airline security and the use of intelligence and hiked airport precautions.

“The president refuses to play politics with these issues as he said at West Point (in December). We must put aside petty politics and recapture the unity that we had after 9/11,” said another Obama spokesman, Bill Burton in Hawaii.

Democrats repeatedly accused ex-president George W. Bush’s administration of exploiting terror scares for political gain.

But Republicans leveraged Thursday’s drama to bolster their theme that Obama’s policies, including reaching out to the Muslim world and closing the Guantanamo Bay terror camp, were making Americans less safe.

“This whole thing should remind us, that the soft talk about engagement, closing Gitmo — these things are not going to appease the terrorists,” said South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint on Fox.

“They’re going to keep coming after us.”

Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra added “What do we have here? This is an international movement of radicalization.

“The Obama administration came in and said, ‘We’re not going to use the word terrorism anymore’… trying to, you know, I think, downplay the threat from terrorism.”

Obama aides have been less prone to use the phrase “war on terror” than the previous White House, but insist they have refocused the US anti-terror fight.

“The president certainly has taken steps in his time in office to re-orient our priorities as it comes to fighting that war on terror,” Gibbs said.

“We are drawing down in Iraq and focusing… on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the place where the attacks of 9/11 originated,” and also focusing on Yemen and Somalia.


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Celebrating the New Year with the latest art of champagne

In World on December 28, 2009 at 7:48 am

As popping corks announce the New Year, champagne lovers can expect some radical new trends in the art of savouring a tipple that for centuries has been associated with celebration.

Italy’s Asti Spumante sparkling wine is on course to outsell French Champagne as revellers around the world toast in the New Year, a study for an agricultural trade magazine predicted Tuesday. (AFP Photo)

The true connoisseur should ditch the traditional long-stemmed flutes and the saucer-shaped coupes and instead start drinking the sparkling white wine from elongated, tulip-shaped glasses, say the experts.

And those seeking to be truly avant-garde should start serving the finest bubbly from carafes.

Champagne has been associated with luxury and festivities since the time when France crowned its kings in Reims, in the heart of the Champagne region of northeastern France.

By the 19th century, it had become an affordable indulgence and grown enormously popular. Production shot from 300,000 bottles in 1800 to 20 million bottles in 1850, and kept growing. In 2008, 405 million bottles were produced.

But recent trends set in motion by champagne producers hope to remind consumers that champagne is not just a celebratory drink but can also be a very fine wine.

To appreciate its subtleties, proper serving vessels are necessary, a point driven home at the recent Grand Tasting in Paris, the annual fine-wine fair hosted by critics Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve.

“We hate the bloody champagne coupe, because we know there is no nose, no aromas, and that’s half the pleasure. We definitely do not recommend it for champagne,” said Philippe Guillon of Riedel, whose glasses were being used at the Grand Tasting.

While they still sell flutes, Guillon sees a move towards a shape reminiscent of a regular wine glass or even the rounder pinot noir glass.

“The glass will affect how the bubbles enter your mouth,” he said.

“If it’s too narrow, the bubbles can be overwhelming. The diameter will play a key role in the perception of the tannins, acidity and bitterness. And the shape will definitely affect the aromas.”

Andreas Larsson, who was voted 2007 Best Sommelier of the World, agreed.

“I think the optimal glass for champagne is a version of the flute with a slightly wider body and narrow opening to enhance flavour and aroma. There’s still a lot of champagne being served in inferior glasses.”

To understand the drive to banish the flute and the coupe, experts point to the complexity of champagne.

“At the heart of champagne is the art of blending,” explained Mathieu Kauffmann, Chef de Cave at Bollinger, before a packed audience at the Grand Tasting.

Kauffmann uses grapes from 40 classified vineyards and 200 different wines. A non-vintage champagne is a blend of at least five vintages taken from the cellars’ vast reserves.

“Given the climate, we cannot assure the house style each year without reserves,” he said, adding that reserve wines, stored in magnums, are bottled separately both by vineyard and grape variety to enable precision blending.

“My objective is to create a complex, aromatic, and balanced vinous champagne that will go with an entire dinner and age well.”

Believing that both the flute and the coupe fall flat in the face of such intricacy, the big-name champagne producers Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck and Bollinger have created custom glasses.

“We tested 30 different glasses,” said Kauffmann. “We tried it with each cuvee and wanted a glass that would also adapt to a great vintage. Our glass is a cross between a flute and a classic wine glass.”

New glasses should be a relatively easy sell, but another new trend in the art of champagne drinking has already sparked controversy.

“The debate is more about decanting, to put it in a carafe or not,” said Kauffmann. “I must admit, I was sceptical at first but we did some very interesting experiments.”

Philippe Jamesse, Head Sommelier at Les Crayeres, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Reims, comes down firmly against carafing champagne. He is unwilling to sacrifice bubbles for aromas.

“Effervescence is an important aspect of champagne. The chefs de cave take such care and the quality of a champagne is directly related to the quality of the bubbles,” he said.

He offered a third solution: “I designed two glasses that allow me to avoid carafing the champagne. Both versions widen at the middle and narrow at the top.”

Others feel the carafe offers real possibilities.

“First, it will open up better. It is a wine, we should not forget,” said Guillon.

“And second, if I were going to have a champagne dinner, putting it in a decanter will remove part of the effervescence, which will make it easier to digest.”

Larsson took a more nuanced approach.

“Consider a gentle decanting beneficial when you enjoy a young, high-quality champagne which is still in a closed phase, just like you would decant a young Burgundy.

“However, for older ones, there’s a risk of overly-oxidizing the champagne and losing too much of the bubbles,” he said.

At least one champagne house has positioned itself with the trendsetters. This holiday season, Charles Heidsieck proposes a hand-blown, lyre-shaped decanter for their prestige cuvee, the 1995 vintage Blanc de Millenaires.

This, it believes, will let the wine “express itself fully and reveal its extraordinary aromatic complexity.”

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“Avatar” rules as North American moviegoers set record

In World on December 28, 2009 at 7:47 am

Box office ticket sales in North America hit a record high for the Christmas weekend, a ticket sales tracking company said Sunday, with innovative science-fiction adventure “Avatar” topping the pack of hit films.

Director James Cameron arrives at the premiere of “Avatar” at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood earlier this month. (AFP Photo)

Overall weekend takings reached 275 million dollars, the highest in the film industry’s history, industry tracker Exhibitor Relations reported.

The effects-laden, 3-D epic “Avatar” — director James Cameron’s first film since the 1997 Oscar-winner “Titanic” — raked in 75 million dollars from Friday to Sunday, according to preliminary estimates by Exhibitor Relations.

The film, which cost between 300 and 500 million dollars to produce, is also the most expensive movie ever made.

“Avatar” was followed by a slew of new releases, including Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes,” starring Robert Downey and Jude Law, which earned 65.4 million dollars since its opening on Christmas Day. Together with “Avatar” they accounted for 53 percent of the weekend box office.

Opening in third place was the comedy “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” — a movie the Washington Post said was a minor Christmas miracle because it “isn’t entirely awful.” The “Squeakquel” pulled in estimated takings of 50.2 million dollars.

“It’s Complicated,” a love triangle comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, opened in fourth place with 22.1 million dollars in takings.

In fifth place with 11.6 million dollars was “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney in the acclaimed story of a corporate downsizer who questions his role in life. The movie has received rave reviews and is likely to be on the short list as the year’s best films are chosen.

Sixth was “The Blind Side,” a drama about a white couple who give an illiterate black teen a home and a new lease on life. The film scored 11.7 million dollars in its sixth week of release.

Disney’s animated movie “The Princess and the Frog,” the first featuring an African-American princess, dropped to seventh place with 8.6 million dollars. It opened on December 11.

Next was “Nine,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a film director in mid-life crisis juggling a wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz) and film star muse (Nicole Kidman). The film adaptation of a Broadway musical based on the Federico Fellini film “8 1/2” made 5.5 million dollars at its official US opening.

Ninth place went to “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” a romantic comedy in which Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker play an estranged couple who witness a mob hit and are placed in a witness protection program. It grossed 5.0 million dollars in its second week.

Rounding out the top ten with 4.4 million dollars was “Invictus,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring veteran actor Morgan Freeman, about how South African president Nelson Mandela united the country around the 1995 rugby World Cup.

Overall weekend box office takings in North America over the Christmas weekend reached an estimated 275 million dollars, topping the previous high-water mark of 260.3 million for the weekend of July 18, 2008, when the Batman movie “The Dark Knight,” the musical “Mamma Mia!” and superhero comedy-drama “Hancock” topped the charts, Exhibitor Relations said.

At 10.3 billion dollars, box office takings for the year, so far, are also the highest on record. Expected to finish at 10.5 billion, 2009 will top 2008, which raked in 9.6 billion, the industry trackers said.


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First section of Siberian-Pacific oil pipeline opens

In World on December 28, 2009 at 7:46 am

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin opened on Monday the first section of the Siberian-Pacific oil pipeline network that will ultimately carry crude to China, Russian news agencies reported.

Russian PM V.Putin visits the oil pipeline construction.

“This is a strategic project that will let Russia into new Pacific Asia markets, where Russia was present insufficiently,” Putin was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti news agency as he officially put the pipeline section into service.

He praised oil pipeline group Transneft for completing the section despite the global economic crisis.

The 2,964-kilometre (1,853-mile) section links Taichet in eastern Siberia with Skovorodino in the Amur region of the Russian far east.

The first section also included construction of an oil port at Kozmino Bay near Nakhodka on Russia’s Pacific coast.

A second pipeline section will run from Skovorodino to Kozmino Bay.

Transneft and the Chinese oil group CNPC in October 2008 signed an agreement on the construction of a 67-kilometre branch line to China which will initially carry 15 million tonnes of oil a year it is becomes operational next year.

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China likely to become top global exporter in 2009: govt

In World on December 28, 2009 at 7:46 am

China is likely to overtake Germany as the world’s largest exporter in 2009, despite a sharp fall in shipments as the global downturn took its toll, a high-ranking trade official has said.

A crane loads a vessel with containers at a port in Shanghai.

The country’s share of global trade is expected to exceed nine percent this year, up from 8.86 percent in 2008, Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said at a forum here on Sunday.

“China will probably surpass Germany to become the largest exporting country,” he said, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website.

However, 2009 was a tough year for the Asian giant with full-year exports predicted to decline by 16 percent on-year, Zhong added — the biggest decline in at least three decades, according to available ministry data.

He blamed the drop on “severely weak international demand” and “rising trade protectionism”, adding the value of trade disputes brought against China in terms of potential losses doubled this year to 12 billion dollars.

The country will face an “even more complicated foreign trade situation and more arduous tasks” in 2010 given ongoing uncertainties in international demand and the stability of the yuan’s exchange rate, Zhong said.

China’s trade is “big but not strong”, and the country must adjust its trade structure and beef up product quality and competitiveness to “realise… improvement in quality from an expansion in quantity”, he said.

In the first 11 months of the year, the country’s exports were down by 18.8 percent from the same period last year to 1.07 trillion dollars, official figures showed.


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China author set to sue Google over web book scan: lawyer

In World on December 28, 2009 at 7:45 am

Chinese author Mian Mian, who shot to fame with lurid tales of sex, drugs and alcohol in the underworld, will sue Internet giant Google this week for copyright infringement, her lawyer said Monday.

Sun Jingwei told AFP that the case — the first civil lawsuit against Google in China over the scanning of books into its controversial web library — would open at a Beijing court on Tuesday.

“Tomorrow afternoon at the Haidian court, representatives from both sides will hand over evidence,” Sun said. “After that I will be preparing our case and I figure that the actual trial will take place next year.”

The 39-year-old Mian Mian — who won fame in 2000 with her novel “Candy,” a story about prostitutes, gangsters and artists in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen — is seeking 61,000 yuan (8,900 dollars) in damages.

She alleges that Google illegally scanned her third novel “Acid Lovers” into its digital library, Sun said.

Mian Mian’s books have been translated into many languages but are largely banned in China, although they were widely available on the black market in the years following the publication of “Candy.”

According to the China Written Works Copyright Society, tens of thousands of books by hundreds of Chinese authors have been added to Google Books, the US Internet giant’s project to digitise millions of books and post them online.

Representatives of the society have said that talks with Google on the issue were “progressing well,” the state-run Global Times newspaper reported Monday.

“First we want Google to admit their mistake and apologise, then we can talk about compensation,” the paper quoted the society’s deputy director-general Zhang Hongbo as saying.

“At the same time, we don’t want Google to give up China in its digitised library project.”

Google China was not immediately available to comment.

The All China Writers’ Association has supported Mian Mian and called on the Internet giant to respect the rights of writers, the China Youth Daily reported.

The Google Books project has also raised objections from authors and publishers in the United States, France, Germany and other countries.

Google reached a settlement with US authors and publishers last year over a copyright infringement suit filed in 2005.

Under the deal, Google agreed to pay 125 million dollars to resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent unit to provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitise their books.

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Tiger ends month of misery as an Invisible Man

In Vietnam Sports on December 28, 2009 at 7:45 am

(File) Tiger Woods talks to the press after his practice round on August 11, 2009 at the 91st PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. (AFP photo)

PALM BEACH, Florida, Dec 27, 2009 (AFP) – One month after his one-car crash touched off a sensational sex scandal that drew the world’s attention, Tiger Woods has become an Invisible Man even as his world has collapsed around him.

In the early morning hours of November 27, Woods struck a tree and fire hydrant when he lost control of his car, and was rushed to a hospital with facial cuts and bruises. He hailed his wife Elin as a hero who rescued him by smashing the vehicle’s back windows with golf clubs.

But where was he going at such an hour? What made him lose control of the vehicle? Why smash the windows farthest from Woods? Did a tabloid report days earlier about an affair spark a marital spat?

Answers to those questions remain unconfirmed, despite reports from celebrity website and a reckless driving traffic citation against Woods.

However the golf superstar’s own admissions of infidelity, “transgressions” and “personal sins” give credence to lurid claims by at least 14 women who say they had affairs with Woods.

In one of the most stunning falls from grace ever seen, Woods’s squeaky-clean marketing juggernaut image was destroyed.

An audiotape of a phone call one of the mistresses released with a voice sounding like Woods was followed hours later by a Woods statement vaguely confessing to wrongdoings.

The 14-time major champion, who skipped his own charity event saying that his accident injuries kept him from attending, later announced he was taking an indefinite leave from his pro golf career.

While Woods went undercover, sponsors began pulling his once-omnipresent image from advertisements.

Watchmaker Tag Heuer and razor-blade giant Gillette quit using his image during his hiatus. Telecommunications giant AT&T was reevaluating Woods as a spokesman. Technology, management and outsourcing consultancy Accenture dropped its deal altogether.

Nike however issued unqualified support in Woods’s darkest hour.

Reports followed at dizzying speed, the latest being Elin having hired a Hollywood celebrity divorce lawyer and taken her children with Woods — 10-month-old son Charlie and two-year-old daughter Sam — to an island home she bought in Sweden.

Clearly, Woods had hopes for a better first Christmas for his son.

Woods was said to be hitting golf balls alone at night to cope with the firestorm. Other reports said he had rekindled a relationship with Rachel Uchitel, the New York show club hostess who was the first mistress revealed.

Uchitel was visiting the same Australian hotel as Woods when he was playing an event Down Under, and claimed she was visiting her parents over the holidays when she showed up in Palm Beach, Florida, close to where Woods has his 20 million-dollar luxury yacht “Privacy” docked.

Bikini-clad beach photos of Uchitel were making the internet rounds over the holiday weekend.

As the scandal unfolded, Woods became a punch line for comedians, with even Disney working a line about the score of alleged Woods affairs into a show at Disneyland.

As 2010 loomed, so did a US PGA Tour season without Woods, whose absence cuts attendance at tournaments and television viewership by 50 percent, adding stress to a sponsor list already weakened by the struggling economy.

A scandal that began with unanswered questions now has one major mystery — when, if ever, will Woods return to his quest to break the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus?

Nearly everyone with a connection to the matter expects a whirlwind of media attention and huge global interest when Woods plays in his next event, just as they understand why Woods might need a break to cope with the revelations of a life far different than model family-man he portrayed.

Reminding people why they were fascinated with him in the first place could be the road back for Woods, but long months await the superstar once known for his uncanny ability to focus on his game under the most tense pressure.

This time, he’s in the game of his life.

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