Tiger Woods To Return To Golf At Masters

Golfer Tiger Woods announced Tuesday that he was returning to the PGA tour. His first tournament will be the Masters early next month.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta. With those words today, Tiger Woods turned next month's Masters Golf Tournament into a major event in every possible sense.

Woods returns to golf after four months of self-imposed exile, following a car wreck, revelations of infidelity, weeks of in-patient therapy, and more rumors than you can shake a nine iron at. Ooh.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins me now.

Tom, Tiger Woods made this announcement in a statement on his Web site. What else did he have to say?

TOM GOLDMAN: His favorite form of communication: statements. It said, and I'm quoting here, Melissa, the major championships have always been a special focus in my career. And as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be. Even though it's been a while since I last played, he also said, as you've alluded to in the introduction, I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy. I am continuing my treatment. Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life.

BLOCK: And the Masters begins, what, April 8th and he's jumping right in. No tune-up necessary for Tiger Woods?

GOLDMAN: Well, I wouldn't say necessary. The Masters is not the place that one wants to shake off rust. In particular, the difficult greens will punish you if your putting is off at all. And putting is about confidence, and how confident is Tiger Woods after all that's gone on?

Still, and this is a big factor, Augusta gives him the softest possible landing back on the tour. It's such a tightly controlled environment. Who gets in to watch, how people on the grounds behave. If anyone heckles, they'll be gone in a snap. And you're not going to see spectators. They call them patrons at Augusta. You won't see anyone holding bed sheet signs or T-shirts with off-color slogans. And also, his access to media is also tightly controlled at Augusta.

BLOCK: What do you figure, Tom, that Tiger Woods will be the same golfer when he takes to the course again? The last time he competed was back, what, November 15th?

GOLDMAN: You're right, yeah. He won the Australian Masters actually November 15th of last year.

Well, you know, in answer to your question, British bookmakers William Hill think he's going to be just fine. They've already made him a four-to-one favorite to win his fifth Masters next month. But, you know, beyond that confidence, there's a lot of speculation about which Tiger will emerge April 8th, the date of the first round at Augusta.

And, you know, there are two schools of thought really. Some say he'll be fine. He is, after all, the man with the laser focus on the golf course, the man who can win a major, the 2008 U.S. Open, playing on a broken leg. And some say the scandal may even be liberating, assuming that this inner conflict between leading a life of infidelity and presenting the good man to the world. That created a tremendous amount of stress. And thus, it's a relief to be outed in a way, even as shameful as it's been for him. Perhaps that lack of stress will manifest itself with better golf.

Now, on the other hand, those who know Woods say he's taking his therapy very seriously, determined to remake himself as a person the way he has at times remade his game. If that's the case, will this process of unearthing the inner Tiger upset the internal balance that allowed him to selfishly single-mindedly achieve greatness on the golf course?

BLOCK: Well, whichever way, I can imagine they are jumping for joy at CBS. CBS Sports President Shawn McManus said this: It's going to be, other than the Obama inauguration, one of if not the biggest media spectacle in recent memory.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, amazing. Yeah, the PGA Tour needs Tiger Woods. And Tiger coming back and winning makes the PGA happy and it brings fans back. Sports fans are forgiving that way. But a very big part of this whole equation though, Tiger has to behave. The work he talks about in his personal life has to be genuine. You wouldn't think people would be as forgiving and charitable if this blows up again.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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