Tiger Woods New Handicap

It was inevitable that golf god Tiger Woods’ return to the Masters this week would prove to be a major television event. Will anyone ever look at him the same?

“We have all put him up on such a pedestal, not only in the golf, but we took for granted the personal side, too,” said Steve Stricker, who went 4-0 with Woods as his partner in the Presidents Cup. “We’ll have to wait and see what golf he brings when he comes back. This may fire him up even more and make him even stronger. He may have less distractions. Who knows? He could be better.”

Augusta National already has said it would allow ESPN to show Woods’ opening tee shot. CBS president Sean McManus predicted that Woods at the Masters would rank only behind President Barack Obama’s inauguration as the “biggest media spectacle.”

Equally curious will be the golf itself, especially now.

Woods last won a major at the 2008 U.S. Open, when he returned from a nine-week break to win at Torrey Pines on a left knee so torn up that he had season-ending injury a week later.

He has never missed the cut at the Masters as a pro. He has won four times, but just once over the last seven years. And he hasn’t hit a meaningful shot in five months.

“Do I think Tiger Woods can be a competitive factor at the Masters? I can’t believe you’re even asking that question,” Cink said. “We’re talking about Tiger Woods, the best player that’s ever played golf. I’ve seen the players who are usually in that conversation. I’ve never seen anybody that plays golf like Tiger Woods does. So the answer to that question is ‘Yes, I believe he can be a factor.”’

Beyond the Masters, can he resume his pursuit of Nicklaus’ 18 majors?

This already was shaping up as a pivotal year for the 34-year-old Woods, with three of the majors held on courses where he has won seven of his 14 majors — Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.

“If Tiger is going to pass my record, this is a big year for him in that regard,” Nicklaus said at the start of the season.

Golf managed to go on without him, even if fewer people were paying attention. Television ratings were down, and galleries were sparse at tournaments that Woods traditionally played.

On the course, no one filled the void. It took until the 12th week of the season—the Arnold Palmer Invitational—for Ernie Els to become the first multiple winner on the U.S. PGA Tour. Eight players from the top 30 in the world have won.

The defending champion at the Masters is Angel Cabrera, who will serve Argentine beef at the champions dinner on Tuesday. It is not known whether Woods plans to attends.

Els, a longtime rival, was among the most critical of Woods when he said the world’s No. 1 player was being “selfish” for choosing the middle of the Accenture Match Play Championship—Accenture was the first sponsor to drop Woods—to make his first public appearance.

Now Els is a little tired of talking about him, an example of the pall Woods’ absence has cast over golf.

“It’s basically affected a lot of lives on tour, as well, because of the constant questioning that we have to answer about a fellow player’s private life,” Els said. “It’s hard enough to make pars and birdies out there than with this whole situation hanging on the tour and everything else.”

The Masters might be the first step toward returning golf to some degree of normalcy. Woods is playing again, his first time in America since the Presidents Cup in San Francisco in the first week of October. That he chose Augusta National to return is not surprising. No other major has greater control of its property, from which fans get weekly badges to the strict decorum (no running, no cell phones). Media credentials are limited, shutting out the celebrity sites that gave Woods the kind of publicity he never imagined.

How he responds on the golf course remains a mystery.

“It will be interesting to see how the other players around him react when his name is on that leaderboard again,” Colin Montgomerie said. “It will be very different to see his name up there. He had that aura about him, and it will be interesting to see if other players react differently now, or the same as they did. It will be very exciting times.”

Montgomerie played with Woods in the third round of the 1997 Masters, and those were exciting times. Woods shot 65 that day to build an eight-shot lead, and he went on to shatter tournament records with his 12-shot victory.

That sent Woods on his way to becoming arguably the most famous athlete in the world, capable of commanding $3 million fees for playing tournaments overseas. He became the first athlete to top $1 billion in gross earnings on and off the golf course.

That seems so long ago now. Starting on Thursday, a new era begins for Woods.

More here : sports.yahoo.com

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