AUGUSTA, Georgia: At this year’s Masters, the biggest question is not who will claim the winner’s green jacket, but whether or not Tiger Woods can recapture the form that has made him a 14-time major champion.Remorseful and humbled after confessions of adultery and months at the heart of a sex scandal firestorm, Woods arrives at Augusta National Golf Club having not competed in an event since winning the Australian Masters in mid-November.
“It’s obviously going to be the biggest thing in sport that week,” said South African star Ernie Els, who won the two biggest Masters tuneup events last month at Doral and Bay Hill.
“Not that Augusta has to shy away from anything but especially with Tiger coming back I think it’s going to be unbelievably big.”
Unable to control himself from cheating on his wife Elin with other women, the father of two — known for his control and discipline on the golf course — makes his dramatic comeback at a club where women are not allowed as members.
“I’m excited to get back to playing. I miss competing,” Woods said last month. “I’m starting to get my feel back. I know how to play the course. I just have to go out and play it.”
World number one Woods, chasing the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, has 71 career PGA victories, two behind Nicklaus and 11 shy of Sam Snead’s record. Woods has four Masters titles, the most recent in 2005.
“Tiger Woods is the biggest story,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said. “I think it’s going to be one of the biggest events in golf history because the biggest player in golf history is going to come back from this absence.
“Everybody is going to be scrutinizing his game and what he says and where he goes – everything. It will also end up being a great tournament because he will probably end up in the mix.
“It will just be really compelling. I believe he can be a factor.”
Woods admits some concern over how spectators at Augusta National will react to him.
“I’m a little nervous about that,” Woods told ESPN. “It would be nice to have a couple claps here or there. I hope they will clap for birdies too.”
Woods saw his iconic rolemodel image shattered by the gossip revelations of multiple mistresses, becoming a punch-line for comedians. He saw the defection of several of the major sponsors that made him the world’s first billiondollar sportsman.
After announcing an indefinite break from golf last December to heal his personal issues, Woods underwent six weeks of therapy and made a public apology in February that captured the attention of the world.
Woods returned to golf practice and announced three weeks ago that he would make his return at the Masters, with rivals saying he could win at Augusta National despite the long layoff.
“He wouldn’t be playing in the Masters if he didn’t think he could win,” said Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie. “And he’s going there and he’s preparing as hard as he has ever done, because he’s determined to do well.
“I’m sure he’ll be contending and he knows how to win. It’ll be interesting to see how other players around him react when his name is on that leaderboard again. He has that aura about him. It will be very exciting times.”
Only Ben Hogan in 1951 and 1953 has won the Masters as his debut event of a season and Arnold Palmer, a fourtime Masters winner, warned the layoff will be tough for even Woods to overcome despite his familiarity with the course. — AFP