What Impact Will Tiger's Return Have On Golf?

Golf great Tiger Woods plans to end more than four months of seclusion and play at Augusta National in three weeks. It will be his first time back in the game since a sex scandal involving him and a string of infidelities broke this winter. Host Michel Martin discusses what Woods' return means to the sport and players with Roy Johnson, editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness magazine.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we hear from a woman who spent the last 30 years helping black women look and feel beautiful. Beauty director at Essence magazine - she's about to retire. We'll hear from Mikki Taylor.

But first after weeks of silence, Tiger Woods has announced that he will return to golf at next month's Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia. This will mark the first time the world's number one golfer will compete since an adultery scandal damaged his brand and image. Tiger's efforts to repair his reputation may depend as much on media management as his performance on the links.

So, here to talk about all this is Roy Johnson. He's the editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness magazine and he has interviewed Tiger Woods previously. Welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. ROY JOHNSON (Editor-in-Chief, Men's Fitness): Thank you, always good to be here.

MARTIN: Now, when he announced his plans on his Web site to return, which is that his Web site is the vehicle that he has preferred to announce big things, it was treated as breaking news. I mean, there were, you know, crawls on the cable networks, and so forth. Why do you think this is such a big deal?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, certainly, all things Tiger have been worldwide global news since that infamous day in November when he crashed his SUV outside of his house. That's because Tiger is Tiger. He is a global icon. He is the most recognized athlete on the planet right now. You could arguably say Kobe and LeBron are right there, but Tiger is certainly 1 or 1A.

This is a salacious scandal that went outside of the boundaries of sports to attract every manner of media known and unknown to man and woman. And he is clearly someone who has been dominant, so there's just a major question on everyone's mind: When is he coming back and how will he do?

MARTIN: Why did Tiger choose the Masters as the place for him to return to golf?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, without speaking to him, I can only offer that he did it for several reasons. One, it is the biggest stage in golf. It is an opportunity for him to as outrageous as it may seem try to win a major, which, you know, his biggest goal is to break the record of Jack Nicklaus for the most number of majors. He has 14.

I also believe he did it because it is a relatively secure venue. There are only a certain number of tickets that are sold. There will be no more tickets allotted because Tiger is there. It is also a very serene environment. They have been known to throw out hecklers and take away their ability to buy tickets in the future. So it is an environment that won't be as crazed as it would've been had it been Bay Hill, which is the event a couple of weeks before that that everyone thought he would pursue and make his debut at. And it'll be much more serene, much more controlled. He'll have the ability at least on a certain level to just play golf.

MARTIN: And I've got a difficult question for you about the whole question of how he controls his image. That when we last spoke, this is just in the wake of the allegations about him coming into public view, since that time, a story has been reported in The Wall Street Journal. It was back in December that suggests that the piece that you wrote as a freelancer for Men's Fitness magazine back in 2007, was in part of a quid pro quo with the parent company that owns Men's Fitness to squash embarrassing revelations about him in the National Enquirer, which that company American Media also owns.

Can you tell us about that? Can you clear that up for us?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, there's really nothing to clear up. We addressed it in The Wall Street Journal article. It was absolutely not true and there's been no other information since then.

MARTIN: You mean not true that there was a quid pro quo?

Mr. JOHNSON: Absolutely.

MARTIN: You know that from your personal knowledge that there was no quid pro quo?

Mr. JOHNSON: That was what we said in the Journal article and nothing has changed.

MARTIN: Have you talked to him since then?

Mr. JOHNSON: I have not, no. Him, you mean Tiger, correct?

MARTIN: I mean, have you talked to Tiger since then?

Mr. JOHNSON: No, I have not talked to him. I don't think anyone really has...

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. JOHNSON: ...except the people around him.

MARTIN: All right, just to clarify, you are saying that in response to this is there was no quid pro quo to squash these revelations in the Enquirer?

Mr. JOHNSON: Our statement to The Wall Street Journal was that that is not true, and that continues to be our statement.

MARTIN: There has been a lot of discussion about the fact that his decision to withdraw from golf initially was at a press conference where he took well, it wasn't a press conference where he gathered the press to make a statement, which was covered, where he took no questions and discussed what was happening to him, the decisions he made and how he planned to go forward. Do you think he will be forthcoming? Do you anticipate that? Or what do you think we're going to see from him?

Mr. JOHNSON: It's a great question. I think there are a number of things that will likely change about Tiger as he goes forward. But in essence, he will still be Tiger. He is a relatively private person, so I dont see him being loquacious and being, you know, the life of the party at press conferences all of a sudden.

I think he does understand that here's an opportunity for him, that as part of his effort to reclaim his image, he will have to be more forthcoming with the public. He'll have to sign more autographs. He may have to be more forthcoming with the media. But in terms of rehabilitating his image, the first thing he has to do is play well, be a gentleman, respect the game. All the things that he said in that announcement - I dont even want to call it a press conference because it really wasnt. It was an announcement.

MARTIN: It wasn't. Mm-hmm.

Mr. JOHNSON: But he said those things and so now we'll see if he follows through.

MARTIN: And athletically, when all these allegations emerged and the scandal erupted, he had just returned to competitive play a couple of months before from taking a break after an injury. So how do you think he's going to do athletically? Any idea?

Mr. JOHNSON: I think physically he'll be fine. I mean, he's had enough time to heal. He certainly has had access to the best doctors and best rehabilitation imaginable. I think part of his taking this amount of time is to get himself in the kind of physical shape he wants to be in order to be competitive and hopefully win. So I think the key for him is what's between his ears. How does he now approach the game mentally? How does he deal with that potential heckler? How does he deal with being seen differently now and having the words infidelity or adultery mentioned every time his name is mentioned?

You know, that'll be the key to see how well he plays. I think physically he'll be fine. But the mental part of Tiger's game will be the one that's under the most severe test.

MARTIN: Roy S. Johnson is editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness magazine and he joined us from his office in New York. Roy, thank you.

Mr. JOHNSON: Thank you.

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