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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

Tiger's tale tops Augusta

 •  Couples' opening 66 leads Masters

By Mike Lopresti

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tiger Woods' approach shot to the 14th green was a rare first-round misfire.

MORRY GASH | Associated Press

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AUGUSTA, Ga. —He's the man, at least in this grassy world. Tiger Woods owns the hearts and the minds. Love it, hate it, that's the way it is.

Normally, the big story yesterday should have been Fred Couples, leading the Masters at the age of 50, playing with no socks and in shoes that looked as if he was going boating — mostly because a guy his age can have a bad back.

"To win Augusta at age 50," he said afterward, "would be a pipe dream."

No, wait. That would be the second biggest story.

The biggest story should have been Tom Watson shooting a 67 at the age of 60, with his son Michael carrying his bag.

"Dad, show me you can still play this golf course," Michael Watson said to his father yesterday morning.

Those were two strong-minded titans, trying to forget their age.

But the day belonged to the man trying to forget his downfall.

Five months of utter anguish — even if self-inflicted — and Woods shot a 68.

Five months away from competitive golf — as his life blew up — and Woods broke 70 in the first round at Augusta for the first time in his life.

Publicly chastised by Masters chairman Billy Payne the day before — and he got two eagles in the same round, something he'd never done here.

A plane flew overhead with anti-Woods messages — about the lone critic seen or heard all day — and he made the roars on the ground grow only louder.

What did it all mean, to a man trying to steer out of a personal hurricane?

"It means I'm two shots off the lead, that's what it means," he said. "I'm here to play a golf tournament."

What was astounding was how ready he was to play a golf tournament.

"If you take your practice seriously and then go out and play like you practice," he said, "everything will be all right."

He makes it sound so easy. Maybe that's why the customers here seemed so happy to have him back.

As he began, they were standing eight deep around the No. 1 tee, with the only attack coming by air.

A plane circled with a rented question, taking aim at Woods' comments that part of his recovery includes a return to active Buddhism: "Tiger did you mean bootyism."

The patrons thought it was funny. But when the Masters official man announced, "Fore, please. On the tee, Tiger Woods," the same patrons heaped adulation.

Quick conclusion: This would not be a tough crowd.

Ahead at No. 2 a few moments later, Padraig Harrington looked up at the airplane with a quizzical look, trying to sound out the word. A couple of voices from the gallery hollered in assistance: "BOOTYISM."

By the time Woods eagled No. 8, his flying nemesis carried a new message: "Sex addict. Yeah. Right. Sure. Me too!"

Strange day.

But when Woods curled his second shot around the trees to within 6 feet from the No. 9 pin, the crowd erupted. Just like old times.

Woods later said he never noticed the plane. "It wouldn't be the first time," he said of such an idea.

Maybe his eyes never rose above the adoring masses.

"Incredible," Woods said of their reaction. "I was saying 'thank you' all day."

Nothing negative?

"Absolutely not."

If there was controversy, it was bouncing around the country from the new Nike ad, with Woods looking stone-faced into the camera, while his late father speaks to him.

"I want to find out what your thinking was," Earl Woods' voice says. "I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?"

Bizarre. You bet. Manipulative? The case could be made. Effective? It has people talking, which is a double eagle in the advertising world.

"I think that's what my dad would say," Woods said. "Any son who has lost a father, and who meant so much in their life, I think they would understand that spot."

Well, I have, and I am not sure I do.

But that's irrelevant. If he has a chance to win Sunday, Augusta National will be a basket case. Love it, hate it, that's the way it is.

Mike Lopresti is a columnist for Gannett News Service.