Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tiger Returns, Golf Again Relevant

Golf got the best news it could possibly ask for Tuesday, as Tiger Woods announced his intentions to return at The Masters next month.

Scoff all you want at his press conference from back in February, but Woods has obviously done a lot of soul-searching, and he must have run this idea by a lot of different people, from counselors to his wife.

Of course, he is his own man, and if he has made up his mind, it doesn't seem likely that anyone is going to change it for him.

No matter what is in the immediate past.

Taking fully into account the chronology of events that got us to this point, Woods decided The Masters was the right time and place to come back to the sport.

"The Masters is where I won my first major, and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta.

"The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it's been awhile since I last played.

"I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy, and I am continuing my treatment. Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life.

"When I finally got into a position to think about competitive golf again, it became apparent to me that the Masters would be the earliest I could play. I called both Joe Lewis and Arnold Palmer and expressed my regrets for not attending the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I again want to thank them both for their support and their understanding. Those are fantastic tournaments, and I look forward to competing in them again.

"I would also like to thank the Augusta National members and staff for their support. I have deep appreciation for everything that they do to create a wonderful event for the benefit of the game."

It makes sense when you think about it. There isn't a more closely-guarded seat among media gatherings than The Masters. They aren't just going to let TMZ or US Weekly break down the walls and get a pass to go ask Tiger a bunch of stupid questions. Instead, it will be a media group respectful of the wishes of both Tiger and Augusta National, and they will likely not ask him much -- if anything -- about what happened.

The galleries will be well-behaved, and Tiger can just concentrate on playing golf. That should be good for him, and it will be good for golf, because the most popular tournament of the year just wouldn't be the same without the sport's biggest needle-mover.

The Masters can survive without Tiger, because there is such mystery to the surroundings, and the pictures ESPN and CBS deliver are second-to-none. It's the one tournament that is a virtual lock to pull a number on Sunday, regardless of the names at the top of the leaderboard.

However, this is bigger for golf. It's not like other sports, who have multiple athletes with crossover popularity. Golf's mainstream audience centers around Tiger Woods.

You're bound to hear a lot about Tiger's sincerity from that statement just about a month ago, but the bottom line is that no amount of time away from the sport would be enough for most people. He'll be forever punished when he tries to escape his reality for a drink or a movie or a concert. His days of living a wholly private life have abruptly ended, and outside of the obvious adjustments to the way he conducts himself as a husband, this is the biggest change he faces as he starts his life over again.

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