Tiger Woods seeks salvation on Augusta's greens
He's on the leaderboard, and a win could do wonders for Tiger's come-back from scandal. As he teed up Saturday, the world watched his swing – and the state of his legendary cool.
How reassuring and familiar the return to Augusta National for the Masters must feel for Tiger Woods, who has been caught in a tornado of personal self-destruction following revelations of affairs begun by a strange Thanksgiving weekend car crash in his front yard.
Since then, we've seen Tiger step away from golf, seen him go to Mississippi for addiction treatment, watched a wooden performance as he broke his silence without taking questions, and then to this week, when he's shown glimpses of authenticity, the profile at least of a man who says golf "is fun again" – which is really what the world was watching and waiting for.
In Pictures Tiger Woods through the years
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IN PICTURES: Tiger Woods through the years
Tiger can't have his old life back. But any return from the brink has to begin with a return – for Tiger and his fans – to the familiar, to have him say in so many words, “Yeah, I messed up real bad, but I can still come home.”
And Augusta, where Tiger has won four times before, is just that: a sort of Elysian Fields for troubled duffers. "I feel very comfortable," Tiger told reporters Friday.
Two strokes behind the leaders, Tiger is in good shape to take his fifth green jacket. He made a couple of mistakes late in the day Friday, but has otherwise played above expectations – especially after an 8-month layoff, the second half of which must have been emotionally devastating to an athlete's psyche.
But if his swing is a bit soft, his putt a tad off, Tiger does have the advantage of now being a veteran on the circuit. The two golfers ahead of him – Brits Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood – don't have a major win between them. Tiger's got 14.
To be sure, controversy still simmers around the story that won't die.
New revelations of affairs, steamy text messages, will his marriage survive – it's all fair game. No matter how he plays from here on out, some Americans have simply had enough of the big-kid antics from a 30-something billionaire duffer.
"It's so hard these days to root against Tiger Woods on the golf course, and much too easy to sneer at the man every time he walks off it," writes New York Daily News sports columnist Filip Bondy.
Fabled for its moodiness and cracked charm, Augusta National, a course that some golfers build their entire playing lives around, is a major character in this drama, providing much of the narrative tension.
"The beautiful thing about this golf course is that there's a tragedy awaiting you just about on every hole," two-time Masters champ Tom Watson tells USA Today.
The rehabilitation of both Tiger the Man and Tiger the Brand has now begun in earnest. An unusual Nike ad featuring Tiger and the voice-over of his late father, Earl Woods, began the effort this week. But most experts agree: If Tiger can return to form on not just any course, but Augusta, his redemption will be within reach.
Columnist Bondy likens Tiger's predicament to someone turning over a banquet table: "There is a lot of scrambling to pick things up … [m]istakes are being made in the frantic clean-up. Just not very often on the golf course."