It has been nearly five months since Tiger Woods crashed his SUV late in the night after Thanksgiving Day.
Woods has not played in a golf tournament since he won the JBWere Masters in Melbourne, Australia in mid November.
Woods checked himself into rehab after his now infamous car wreck and rededicated himself to his religion. Tiger's self-imposed exile from golf looked as if it would stretch deep into 2010.
Since Tiger crashed his SUV, he has had two press conferences: one in which Woods just made a 30-minute statement and took no questions, and the other another 30-minute press conference where Tiger fielded questions from the media.
Many questioned when Woods would return to golf after his first press conference gave no timetable for a return. But the lure of Augusta National seems too great for Tiger to pass up, with the course seemingly made for his type of game.
Shortly after the car accident Tiger went from being the most worshiped golfer on the PGA Tour to being scorned in the media for his extramarital affairs. After Woods checked himself into rehab for sex addiction, he went from scorned athlete to victim.
Slowly but surely the media stance on Tiger shifted from outrage for his many indiscretions and boorish behavior on the course to when would Woods return. Nearly every sportswriter and sports fan flip-flopped from anger to hero worship once more in a matter of a few months.
A million articles have been written about how great a story it would be if Tiger somehow came back from a five-month layoff to win the Masters. While some coaches and athletes can never seem to escape their indiscretions, Woods has reached Michael Jordan status.
Tiger has become just like Jordan and has found himself a Teflon athlete. Woods' past behavior has been quickly forgiven, and only his return to golf and play at the Masters seem to matter at this point.
So, on Thursday, April 8, the first round of the Masters will be played, and the only question is how well will Tiger play. Every drive, chip, and putt by Tiger will be broken down and scrutinized at length.
One has to believe that the folks running the Masters hope that the cut line happens to be high, just in case Woods struggles in his return. There is no question that everyone involved with the Masters wants Tiger to make it to the weekend.
One does have to feel sorry for the rest of the participants in the field. No matter how well each golfer plays, the only questions he will be asked are about how Tiger is doing.
No matter how magical the story would be if Woods came back and won the Masters after all the drama in his personal life, it might be best if Tiger won the event. If someone else happens to win the Masters, his victory will be overshadowed by how well or poorly Tiger played.
Every other story line will be swallowed up by the mega media storm of Tiger’s play no matter how he plays in his first tournament back. The closer Tiger is to the top of the leader board, the less attention the actual winner will receive.
Other events this season have already seen the winning golfer’s victory being relegated to an afterthought because of an announcement or lack thereof by Tiger. The PGA Tour and their sponsors only have themselves to blame since they have placed all their eggs in Tiger's basket.
No matter how Tiger plays, most in the media and fans will wax on how well he played after such a long layoff and the drama in his personal life. The 2010 Masters has become the Tiger Woods invitational even before the first round has been played.
The sad thing is that Woods has only done what was best for himself and has not worried about the PGA Tour at large. Now if he is to be believed, it will be a kinder and gentler Tiger on the course this week at the Masters.
Already we have seen the guys running the Masters bend over backwards to give Tiger a great tee time and group to play with. Will this help Tiger to be the kinder and gentler golfer? Only time will tell.
What has to be the saddest part of this whole love affair the media and fans have with Tiger is the selfishness most have. We, as writers and fans, want Tiger to return to golf.
We drone on and on about how the sport needs Tiger and the Majors are just not as interesting without him. As writers and fans, we are so selfish that we seem to forget that Woods’ wife Elin has not even traveled to the Masters with Tiger.
Maybe instead of being so worried about whether Tiger plays in the Masters or how well he plays, we should let Tiger stay off the course to work on his marriage and family life.
Instead we can only focus on Tiger the athlete and what that means to us and not Tiger the man. What would Woods gain if he happens to win the Masters and lose the fight to save his marriage?
Of course, that will not matter to us; we only want to see Tiger play golf and hope and pray that he writes some great redemption story. As if winning the Masters proves that Woods has put the last five months behind him.
Tiger is the one player on tour that seems to be able to play at a high level no matter how strained his personal life is. Winning the Masters is not the story of redemption we should be waiting to write.
Woods becoming a better husband and father is the better story of redemption that should matter. But as selfish as we are, we only care how well Tiger hits a golf ball.
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