RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Ninety-six golfers tee off today, in the first round of the Masters, but in one sense, it might as well be just one man. And that would be Tiger Woods. His return to the PGA tour is overshadowing almost everything else at the tournament. NPR's Tom Goldman is with us now, from Augusta.
TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Hi, Tom. Tiger, is he really all that people are talking about there?
GOLDMAN: Pretty much. Whatever anyone thought about the sordid sex scandal that has consumed Woods over the past few months, it's really been the world's water cooler topic. And Tiger's swan dive in the popularity polls and now his reemergence, yes, a very big topic here.
Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National, gave his annual Masters Week press conference yesterday, and reporters wondered what he would say. And he startled a lot of people with what amounted to a public scolding of Tiger.
Mr. BILLY PAYNE (Chairman, Augusta National): Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children. Is there a way forward? I hope yes. I think yes. But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change.
GOLDMAN: Now, Renee, that's a strong statement. It's all that Billy Payne wanted to say. He didn't want to answer questions about the scandal, about security while Tiger plays. You know, while there's a lot of talk about Tiger being back, a lot of people, including fellow golfers, prefer not to talk about the scandal itself.
The story continues to evolve. There are reports this week of new allegations about Woods and his inner circle. But that's outside Augusta National.
MONTAGNE: And what has Tiger Woods himself said, so far, in these past few days?
GOLDMAN: Well, of course his much-ballyhooed news conference Monday. And it was notable for his chummy attitude toward reporters and a basic unwillingness to say anything of real substance. He repeated his remorse. He's done that quite a bit. But there are details about the scandal and about his resultant therapy that some people still would like to hear.
You know, it reminds me a bit of former baseball star Mark McGwire when he recently gave his coming clean interviews about using banned drugs. And even though there were holes in his story, he said he talked publicly and it's over. And I think Woods may do the same kind of thing. If he gets asked about new developments in the scandal, he can say I had my press conference, you all asked questions, let's move on.
MONTAGNE: You know, Tom, why don't we turn - in fact, let's move on - to talking a little about Tiger the golfer. What should we expect?
GOLDMAN: Well, that is the $64,000 question. You would think he'd be rusty. And Jack Nicklaus said, this week, at Augusta, he's surprised Tiger chose the Masters as his comeback event. It's a very hard course. It requires great strategy. And once you get to the greens it requires great touch and confidence.
And Tiger has also talked about trying to cut down on his angry outbursts. That's part of the change he says he's making in his personal life. Will him trying to tamp down on his emotions have an impact on him as a golfer? He's made a career out of doing improbable things, but this is a tall order, and it's why gobs of people are going to tune in.
MONTAGNE: Well, if Tiger is not going to be up near the top of the leader board, who is likely to be there?
GOLDMAN: Well, the prediction game is always hard, but a couple of big names playing very well - Ernie Eels, Fred Couples. Phil Mickelson hasn't been having a good year, but he always gets up for this tournament. And there'll be a lot of interest in how the four teenagers in the field do, including 16-year-old Italian, Matteo Manassero. He's the youngest to ever play in the Masters. So we'll check back Monday and see how they all did.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: And that's NPR Tom Goldman speaking to us from the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.
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