Thursday began with noise.
The media chattered endlessly about the return of Tiger Woods and his first tee shot (and the crowd reception that followed) that boomed down the opening fairway at Augusta National Golf Club and was heard throughout all reaches of the country.
Sunday ended with a whimper. The world's greatest golfer struggled, and the once roaring crowds, anticipating a historic comeback, were silenced with confusion, and then with disappointment as his infamous Sunday resolve failed to kick in until too late.
Still, it was a successful result for the much-maligned Woods at the sport's premier event. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, and a sizeable portion of fans outside the Augusta galleries cheering for his every mistake, he finished a respectable fourth, proving his ability to quickly snap back into competitive form.
Tiger's last five months have been characterized by tough questions, but the question now is simple: Where does he go from here?
Woods picks and chooses where and when he plays. He can afford to take events off, and often does, saving his game for personal favorite tournaments and, of course, the majors.
Tiger's first press conference at Augusta was telling. He wasn't mentally and emotionally ready to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill (where he's a six-time champion) just two weeks ago. But the Masters? Different story. Tiger wasn't just ready to kick off the rust, but compete as well.
Woods also said that he is fully committed to undoing his mess. He emphasized that he will keep attending therapy sessions. His family, his marriage, and his friends are the most important thing. Tournaments, while nice, aren't everything.
If that's the case, will Tiger fade away again? Will he disappear into his private life, chalk it up to the demands of therapy and recuperation, and not return until June 17 at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open?
Or will he face the music? The crowds at lesser events likely won't have the restrictions that galleries at Augusta do, where anything but claps and cheers is an offense, and can lead to permanent expulsion. The hostile fans conspicuously absent at the Masters will be there for other events. Woods will have to deal with jeers, comments, chants, and of course, boos.
Despite his reputation for mental toughness, Tiger has been notorious for his temper on the course. He'd burst out angrily for every camera flash or conversation in his backswing. He'll likely face worse than that if he plays in upcoming tournaments. He may not want to face that challenge.
For professional golfers, majors are everything: We'll see Tiger again. Not even an ultra scandal could keep Tiger from the Masters. Similarly, nothing will keep Tiger from the U.S. Open, or the British Open, or the PGA Championship.
But for everything else, the 28 non-majors between now and the end of the season, we'll have to see. Tiger Woods has returned to the game of golf. He's back. Soon it'll be determined to what extent.
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