Woods: Mastering the Masters?

Brendan Connor on whether Tiger Woods can win the title and the crowd at Augusta.

    Woods has his sights on the green jacket at the scene of his first Major triumph [AFP]

    After 144 days away from competitive golf, he's back. 

    Tiger Woods teed off on Thursday at one of the world's most famous golf tournaments – the US Masters – hitting his drive straight, landing it in the fairway and hearing a polite smattering of applause from the fans gathered on the first tee. 

    He later made par on that first hole, and went on to shoot a confident round of four-under-par 68 with two eagles. 

    It was his best-ever start in the Masters. 

    By the end of that first round, the crowd was roaring its approval.


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    Has he won them back?

    Well America loves to forgive its fallen heroes and America loves a redemption story. 

    In case you've been in a cave or off the planet for the last five months, the number one golfer in the game has been embroiled in a sordid sex scandal involving more than dozen women claiming they have had affairs and sex-text relationships with Woods. 

    It has trashed his marriage, sent him into a treatment program, lost him sponsors and fans and has tarnished a previously-shiny reputation.

    But, he has faced the music.

    There was an appropriately ashamed, humble and forthright appearance at a news conference at the stately Augusta National Golf Club on Monday, and both the media and the spectators appear to approve of this newly contrite Tiger.  

    Woods looked confident and sure as he made his way around the manicured fairways and greens of Augusta, suggesting he is able to compartmentalise his issues amazingly well. 

    World watching

    Knowing the world is watching, sponsors are evaluating, knowing his marriage and carefully-crafted career could be depending on a strong performance here, he appears to be pulling it off. 

    But, what will his performance be like as the tournament continues to weekend play? 

    "Will he be able to shut out the scandal as the pressure builds, and will he be sharp? Or will his game fall apart on this giant stage?"

    Brendan Connor

    He's won the Masters four times, and is clearly ultra-comfortable on this course. 

    Will he contend, or will he be happy with a top 20 finish? 

    Round two on Friday was a tougher day for all, with the tees moved back further, and with more challenging pin placements.

    Still, Woods shot a two-under-par 70 and is definitely in the hunt.

    On the subject of his return, feelings are mixed everywhere. 

    There are fellow golfers who are happy he is back because he's good for business. 

    More people watch the tournaments when Woods is playing, and that's good for all the players on tour as more people will see the sponsor logos they wear on their shirts, hats and golf bags.

    All eyes will be on Woods to see if he'll play well on Saturday and Sunday under what will be intense scrutiny. 

    Pressure builds

    Will he be able to shut out the scandal as the pressure builds, and will he be sharp? 

    Or, having been off since late November, will his game fall apart on this giant stage?

    Fans calling radio talk shows are offering a variety of opinions.

    Woods answered a barrage of questions at a pre-tournament press conference [AFP]

    Some remain outraged at the sleazy revelations and claims of his trysts in hotels, bars, parking lots and elsewhere, and those fans want Woods to flop badly at the Masters.

    Others say Woods is simply the best golfer in the world and while they are unimpressed with is personal choices and his moral compass, and feel sorry for his wife and kids, they love his skill on the golf course and want to see him dominate and silence the finger-wagging and judgmental talk.

    Regardless of which way you lean on the question, the event is certainly more enticing with Woods in the field and contending. 

    It will be incredible if he wins it after five months away, but he has amazed us before. 

    As stated, America loves a redemption story. 

    Like LA Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant and his dismissed rape case, all he had to do to win hearts back was to win on the basketball court.

    The public seems ready to re-embrace this troubled athlete as well.

    Tiger Woods messed up in life, acting with what he called "a false sense of entitlement." 

    His dalliances suggest he may be unsure of what is appropriate behaviour out there, but he is certainly at his most comfortable inside the ropes and on the fairways and greens, and he showed that in his first two rounds with a six-under-par score. 

    What lies ahead for Woods through the weekend, and what acceptance there will be amongst golf fans in the United States and around the world, will certainly be interesting to watch.

    Brendan Connor is a former Al Jazeera sports correspondent with an encyclopaedic knowledge of sport on the American continent.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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