Tiger Back In The Spotlight At The Masters

Let's be honest, looking at the leaderboard for the Masters, there's just one name that jumps off the screen, and it's not Lee Westwood (sorry, Lee). Tiger Woods is the show at Augusta this year, and he's playing like the number one-ranked player in the world, despite a five-month layoff. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Tom Goldman, who is covering the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

And it's time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: The British are coming. The British are coming - a couple of them. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood are at the top of the leaderboard at the Masters tournament. But you know what? That duo could be a zillion strokes ahead and still not attract the attention Tiger Woods has by returning to golf at the Masters and playing like he's been in training for five months, not seclusion.

NPR's Tom Goldman is at the Masters. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I am fine, thank you. And where does Tiger Woods stand going into today's round? How's he playing?

GOLDMAN: He's tied for third with four other golfers, two shots behind the leaders. He's playing very well. He's very pleased with his performance. He putted poorly in the first round - a first round that happened to be his best opening round ever at Augusta - but he still putted poorly. Yesterday in round two, he said he controlled the flight of the ball well - I know that's an important thing to you, Scott - and he...

SIMON: On my ticket, yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...putted much better. So, he's very happy, especially the fact that he's not only playing well but he's a contender. And he said as much in this post-round press conference yesterday in a funny kind of duh moment with a reporter.

Unidentified Man (Reporter): Do you like your spot on the leaderboard right now?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TIGER WOODS (Professional Golfer): Yeah, I do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOODS: Yes.

SIMON: Clearly, that wasn't you asking that question, Tom.

GOLDMAN: No, just the smart ones. Now, Tiger, he's talked a lot about how it was his intense practice sessions that have helped him not miss a beat out here. And I think we're also seeing his supreme talent as a golfer, probably the most talented ever - the ability to come back and lock on immediately.

We're also seeing his supreme arrogance in a good and a bad way, Scott. Good in that he has the confidence and belief in himself to do this. Bad in that he continues to say he had to practice extra hard because he didnt have the luxury of playing tournaments during his time away from golf, as if he were being denied an opportunity.

As reporter here said, Tiger, buddy, that was your choice to remove yourself from the scene. Your choice to get yourself into the little mess you did. No one was denying you.

SIMON: Hmm. I want to talk about these two British guys, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, while we have the chance. They're really has been a whole, forgive the expression, renaissance of the Brits doing very well in the international tournaments.

GOLDMAN: Well, they have. You know, and here's what Lee Westwood would say to you though, Scott. In that wonderful British way of calling someone a schmuck, while sipping a cup of tea and smiling...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: ...I'm not saying Im calling you that, Scott. But Westwood responded to a reporter who said is this verification of the British renaissance in golf. He said if you think thats so, you simply haven't checked the recent roll of ranking. There are three Brits in the top 10, Westwood is number four. Poulter is number seven. They're darn good and they have been trending upward recently, as we say.

Poulter is very flamboyant in both his talk and his clothing. He loves more than a hint of color on the golf course. Yesterday, he was resplendent in pin pants, yellow shirt, white shoes with a just a little pink stitching, and...

SIMON: My exact outfit today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: And his love of natty attire prompted the following question from a reporter.

Unidentified Man: You like to make bold fashion statements. What color combination goes well with a green jacket?

Mr. IAN POULTER (Professional Golfer): What?

Unidentified Man: What color combination goes well with a green jacket?

Mr. POULTER: Absolutely anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: The green jacket, of course, Scott. The green sport coat goes to the winner of the Masters.

SIMON: Yeah. Tom, has nobody shouted anything ugly or even just a little bit curious at Tiger Woods, as he stalks the course?

GOLDMAN: No. No. There have been no reports of heckling. Security has been very tight. I've recognized the same security guards walking along in the gallery with Tiger during his rounds. Reportedly, security guards have had mug shots of Tiger's mistresses, so they are ready to pounce - so to speak - if they see someone. Particularly...

SIMON: Forgive me. That must be quite a collection.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Exactly. You know, like unrolling one of those scrolls, yeah. No, particularly in the opening practice rounds when more people were on the course, but no. And, you know, Scott, the whole elephant in the room has become a mouse here. There's hardly a mention of the scandal.

Just this plan by Team Tiger, you know, we're seeing why he returned to Augusta. Very polite, knowledgeable golf fans here. The patrons, as they're called, are here to see golf and not fuss with all that scandal stuff.

Of course, what happens after this bubble of protection at the Masters is anyone's guess.

SIMON: And, you know, theyve given us a few more seconds on the clock, Tom. So there are a lot of players from around the world who are doing very well in this early round, aren't there?

GOLDMAN: Well, there are. You know, I mentioned the people right behind the leaders, four Americans: Woods, and Mickelson, and Anthony Kim, and Ricky Barnes. Should also mention the South Koreans, Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi, yes, they're representative. Lots of people from other countries, it certainly is a United Nations of golf, of course, with the English on top right now.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, may...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: ...Britannia rules the greens, at least until later this afternoon.

NPR's Tom Goldman from the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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