Tiger Tees Off In The Masters' Protective Bubble The Masters kicked off Thursday morning, but it didn't really get going until 1:42 p.m., when Tiger Woods hit his opening drive. Woods chose the Masters for his return because of the protective bubble that Augusta National provides. But that bubble extends only as far as the club's fence.
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Tiger Tees Off In The Masters' Protective Bubble

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Tiger Tees Off In The Masters' Protective Bubble

Tiger Tees Off In The Masters' Protective Bubble

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Masters is underway in Augusta, Georgia, and so is the next chapter of Tiger Woods' career. After nearly five months of scandal, Woods chose the Masters for his return because of the protective bubble Augusta provides.

But as NPR's Tom Goldman reports, that bubble only extends as far as the club's fence.

TOM GOLDMAN: The Masters officially began at 7:50 this morning, when the first group of players went off. Unofficially, it all began at 1:42 in the afternoon. That's when Tiger Woods, after smiling and waving to a cheering crowd, did what he's always done best.

(Soundbite of driving a golf ball)

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: His opening drive went straight down the fairway, which was where he headed, to try to win a golf tournament, and in the process win back a bunch of fans.

Meanwhile, outside the gates of cloistered Augusta National on adjacent Washington Road, the weeklong free-for-all continued. A Hooters display sold suggestive Masters T-shirts. A guy selling discount jewelry held a sign that read: Pulled a Tiger? Need to make amends? And farther down the road, another day of sidewalk sales for a familiar face.

Unidentified Man #1: Hey, John.

GOLDMAN: Pro golfer John Daly isn't playing the Masters this year. All week he's been stationed in front of his massive touring bus hawking John Daly merchandise. And his fans have come.

Unidentified Man #2: Love the game, man.

Mr. JOHN DALY (Pro Golfer): Thank you.

Unidentified Man #2: Are you going back to the British Open this year?

Mr. DALY: Oh yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: Good. Good luck over there, man.

Mr. DALY: Thank you.

Unidentified Man #2: Really rooting for you.

Mr. DALY: Appreciate it.

GOLDMAN: Think of Tiger Woods the way we used to pre-scandal. Then think about his polar opposite and you get John Daly. Chain smoking, gambling, womanizing, getting drunk and in trouble with the law, Daly's done it all, and he remains one of the most popular players on the tour. He also never promised anyone, through slick ad campaigns, image-makers and handlers, that he'd be any different. They lined up yesterday and bought his book,�"John Daly: Golf My Own Damn Way."

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

All week, bucolic Augusta National has been Tiger Woods' safe haven away from the outside. No jokes, no tabloids, no heckling. Security guards during his practice rounds reportedly carried mug shots of his alleged mistresses. The scandal hasn't been avoided. Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National - a club notorious for its past exclusion of anyone not white and male - delivered a stern message�to Woods about morality.

Mr. BILLY PAYNE (Chairman, Augusta National): It is not simply the degree of his 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 sought for our children.

GOLDMAN: The strong words startled reporters, who questioned Woods at his own beginning-of-the-week press conference but who seemed most comfortable talking to other players and getting back to golf. Legendary champion Jack Nicklaus held court early in the week, at one point reminiscing about the awe he felt as a young man playing golf with an earlier legend, Ben Hogan.

Mr. JACK NICKLAUS (Pro Golfer): My kind of guy to play with. We walked down the fairway, not nothing, pleasantries. When you hit a good shot - if he said it was a good shot, you knew darn well it was a good shot because he didn't say it was a good shot unless it was a good shot. And, you know, he went about his business, and I went about my business. I loved that.

GOLDMAN: Nicklaus's story actually is relevant to the week's hot topic. It illustrates the succession of golf royalty - from Hogan to Nicklaus, now to Woods - and how the game survives that change at the top. The sport continues uncomfortably right now as the current transcendent star goes through his personal crisis - with the help of Nike.

Last night, the�first post-scandal ad debuted - Woods, somber, stares into the camera, the voice is of his late father.

(Soundbite of Nike Ad)

Mr. EARL WOODS: I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?

GOLDMAN: Woods' face dissolves, replaced by a white swoosh. The new Tiger. Introspective. Believe in him. Buy Nike. Sound familiar?

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Augusta.

BLOCK: And Tiger Woods wrapped up this first day of the tournament with his best score ever of the Masters opening round. He shot a four-under-par 68.

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