Spotlight On Tiger Woods As Masters Begins

Tiger Woods chips out of a trap on the second hole during a practice round at the Masters. i i

Much attention will be focused on Tiger Woods at the Masters Tournament, which begins Thursday in Augusta, Ga. The world's top golfer is returning to the sport after a sex scandal and a 4 1/2-month break. Chris O'Meara/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Chris O'Meara/AP
Tiger Woods chips out of a trap on the second hole during a practice round at the Masters.

Much attention will be focused on Tiger Woods at the Masters Tournament, which begins Thursday in Augusta, Ga. The world's top golfer is returning to the sport after a sex scandal and a 4 1/2-month break.

Chris O'Meara/AP

And so it begins. After an unprecedented amount of buildup, the Masters Tournament gets under way Thursday in Augusta, Ga. It's one of the most revered events in sports any year — but the 2010 Masters will be remembered for Tiger Woods' comeback.

It's been nearly 4 1/2 months since the world's No. 1 golfer had his life torn apart by an image-busting sex scandal; it's been at least that long since he played in a golf tournament. Woods chose Augusta for his return because of his comfort level there. He has won four Masters, and the highly controlled environment within the confines of Augusta National Golf Club promised to make his landing softer than at other sites.

Indeed, this week, Woods has encountered supportive galleries that thronged, just like old times, to his practice rounds. His much ballyhooed news conference at the beginning of the week was relatively tame. Reporters pushed him a bit, but Woods largely was in control and revealed few if any significant details about the early morning car crash that ignited the scandal; the multiple affairs in which he engaged and whether or not his inner circle knew about them; his 45 days in rehab — what it was for and how it will continue.

'He Disappointed All Of Us'

Woods may have emerged largely unscathed, but on Wednesday, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne had some harsh words during his annual Masters week address to the media.

Here are some excerpts:

"It is not simply the degree of [Woods'] conduct that is so egregious here; it is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children."

"Certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change. I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing but would settle for his smile."

A Year To Trump Past Masters?

As the tournament gets under way Thursday, Woods will be under an even bigger microscope than usual — if that's possible. His behavior will be watched; he has said part of the change he needs to make is on the golf course. Not getting as "hot," as he puts it — and on the flip side, less exuberant as well. Will Woods' attempts to tamp down emotion, to smile and be more accessible, have an impact on the laser focus and efficiency for which he's famous? Will the rust show from five months out of competitive golf?

Even the great Jack Nicklaus this week questioned the wisdom of coming back to Augusta without playing any events beforehand. The Masters, after all, is one of the toughest tournaments. The infamously undulating, scary-fast greens require a great putting touch and confidence, as well as great accuracy on the approach shots.

Woods is known for miraculous performances. If he can't pull off one this week, who might? There's been talk at Augusta National that the tournament really could do with a big-name winner. The last one was crowd favorite Phil Mickelson in 2006. Some of the top pros have been playing quite well. South African Ernie Els is the hottest golfer on tour, having won twice this year. Another crowd favorite, Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champ, has won three straight tournaments on the Champions (formerly Senior) Tour. And Padraig Harrington, winner of three major tournaments, appears to be peaking at the right time.

The Masters always has a knack for supplying more than enough drama. This year may trump all others — both on and off the course.

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