Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Woods Nears Crucible Of Masters; America Awaits

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the first hole during the final round of the 2009 Masters. i i

The gallery has always kept a close eye on Tiger Woods at the Masters. As he returns from a scandalous off-season, the scrutiny is likely to be even more intense this year. David Cannon/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption David Cannon/Getty Images
Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the first hole during the final round of the 2009 Masters.

The gallery has always kept a close eye on Tiger Woods at the Masters. As he returns from a scandalous off-season, the scrutiny is likely to be even more intense this year.

David Cannon/Getty Images

Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports, has decreed that when Tiger Woods plays the Masters next week, it will be nearly the magnitude of the interest in Barack Obama's inauguration — the sort of overstatement we have not been treated to since John Lennon declared that the Beatles had put Jesus in their shadow. But to be sure, the level of curiosity will certainly be huge.

Still, in a very real way, the larger question now is not so much how Woods will do as we watch him, but what it says of us who have such a fascination with wanting to watch him. Now, it's not all just a matter of prurient interest. A large part of it has to do with simply wondering how he'll manage to hit his shots in the eye of the hurricane.

Nothing would surprise me. I've known all sorts of athletes who, in the midst of personal distress, have found success on the field of play, somehow turning the most public place into a sanctuary of private skill.

Remember Kobe Bryant only a few years ago, dealing, in Colorado, with sexual assault charges, the very possibility of imprisonment, while flying back and forth to Los Angeles, to blithely score bushels of points for the Lakers? There's no accounting.

I find some enlightenment in the words of the late sage Al McGuire, who knew sports stars so well. "Superintelligent people can't be good athletes," Coach McGuire said. "They're too aware."

And if there is one thing we have learned about Woods, it is what little awareness he possesses — otherwise, please, sir, explain all those guileless text messages. Rusty he may be at Augusta, but why should we think self-consciousness will hinder him?

Yes, he must know how much schadenfreude will be amid the azaleas, rooting for the scoundrel to fall on his face. But, of course, he also knows it's an article of faith that Americans are particularly generous with second chances.

But are we really? Or is it closer to the truth that we just extend that grace to celebrities so that we can have them back in order that we might pick over them some more?

And don't even bother trying to be above the fray, asking, "Why should we care about the libertine excess in any athlete's private life?" In another time, George Bernard Shaw's good friend, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, observed: "It doesn't matter what you do in the bedroom, as long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses."

With celebrities — which is what athletes have become — sex is just so noisy now, and for us, in this culture, no matter how many more championships Woods wins, he'll always remain, in the fullest sense of the phrase, a sex symbol.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford