Tiger arrives at Augusta
By Doug Ferguson
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods arrived without warning on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, as quiet as it will get for him the rest of the week at the Masters.
For a while, it looked as though nothing had changed.
He greeted two reporters whom he had not seen in five months with a playful jab. When he strolled onto the new practice range, no one stopped what they were doing. He chatted with Paul Casey before hitting balls, Jim Furyk when he was done. But when he was looking for a game and ran into Mark O'Meara, the enormity of the week began to sink in.
They have never shared such a long embrace before playing nine practice holes.
"I haven't seen him since July," said O'Meara, whom Woods once leaned on as a 20-year-old rookie trying to find his way.
"Listen, I love the kid. I understand what happened and it's not a good thing that has happened," O'Meara said. "It doesn't take away from the fact that he's my friend and I care for him. It's like I told him out there, 'This is the place where you belong. This is what you love to do.' And he does. He loves to compete and play. So it's good to have him back.
"The game needs him back, and it's good for him to be back."
Woods has not been seen in public, except for a televised apology, since his middle-of-the-night car accident Nov. 27 that set off explosive revelations of a sordid life hardly anyone knew existed. More than a four-time Masters champion and the No. 1 player in golf, he now is famous worldwide for a sex scandal that made him a regular in tabloids.
Woods played the back nine yesterday, then met with Masters chairman Billy Payne before leaving the club.
It all changes when he returns today.
The gates open at 8 a.m., sending some 30,000 people onto the grounds at Augusta National. For Woods, the toughest part of the week might be this afternoon when he holds his first press conference.
Interest is so high that the club has limited seating to one reporter for each news outlet, with only a few exceptions.
"He'll figure it out," O'Meara said. "He's pretty tough."
O'Meara was surprised to see Woods yesterday at the Masters, and he wasn't alone. There was no commotion on the range when he arrived, and Casey was stunned to see Woods standing behind him.
"It's where I'm used to seeing him," Casey said, choosing to keep their conversation private. "All of a sudden he appeared behind me. He was all business as usual — hit 10 balls and go play."
Furyk had not seen Woods since they celebrated a Presidents Cup victory on Oct. 11.
"He's probably here a little earlier than normal," Furyk said. "I've never seen him here on a Sunday. Generally, it's nice to have him back and I can't wait until he's out here and I don't have to answer any more questions about him."
Now, it's time to get introduced to a Woods no one knew.
He has been linked to more than a dozen women, although he has confessed to cheating only on his wife. "I have made you question who I am and how I could have done the things I did," Woods said in his 13 1/2-minute statement at Sawgrass on Feb. 19.
As for his golf? Stay tuned.
"He hit the ball pretty good today," O'Meara said. "He's been practicing the last three or four weeks. He's good to go. It's going to be a different thing for him. But if anyone can handle it, he can."