Column: Tiger reemerges, but is he still on the prowl? |

Column: Tiger reemerges, but is he still on the prowl?

On the biggest stage golf has to offer, Tiger Woods will end his self-imposed exile from competition on Thursday when he opens his 2010 season at the Masters. After the events of last November, and the ensuing revelations of Tiger’s secret life of infidelity, it’s hard to guess what will happen over the course of the tournament.

At Monday’s press conference on the grounds of the hallowed golf sanctuary in Augusta, Tiger fielded questions on a wide range of topics: the state of his golf game, performance-enhancing drugs, prescription drugs, and, of course, the events of last Thanksgiving night. His answers were tempered, sometimes sounding rehearsed, but with a degree of humility that hasn’t often been present in the past. He made it clear, however, that, above all else, he is there to win the tournament.

During Monday’s practice round, Woods felt that the fans outside the ropes of Augusta National’s fairways were very supportive. Likewise, most tour players interviewed over the past couple of days are quick to point out that they are happy to have Tiger back on tour.

But is it really possible to just put away the events of the past five months and go back to watching Tiger play golf again?

For some, that is all they want out of Tiger; to watch him play and try to add to his total of four green jackets and 14 major titles. They don’t want to hear any more about Tiger’s transgressions, and are quick to point out that he’s apologized, and that everybody deserves a second chance after making a mistake.

Others are having a little more trouble deciding who Tiger Woods really is, and whether he deserves renewed support, to say nothing of respect or admiration. This side feels conned by a man who did everything he could to cultivate an image of being a loving husband, doting father, and a Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to self-discipline, all the while leading a secret life of deception to his fans, sponsors, and, more importantly, his family.

It was confirmed during Monday’s press conference that Tiger’s wife, Elin, would not be attendance at Augusta. Whether that was planned to allow Tiger to concentrate solely on playing golf, or because the wounds are still far from healed in their marriage, is open to speculation. The sense here is that Elin wants no part of being put into the possible scenario of Tiger walking up the 18th fairway on Sunday, ready to claim his fifth Masters title, and feeling like she’s compelled to run out and throw her arms around him. To a wife and mother of two small children, winning does not cure everything.

Those who know Tiger best say he wouldn’t be entered if his game wasn’t in shape to win. This will be a new experience for Tiger, however. He has spent the better part of his life hitting golf shots with the giant majority of fans watching in support. Regardless of what Tiger reports from his practice round on Monday morning, he will likely not have the public backing that he’s enjoyed in past years. Ernie Els, long a sentimental choice at Augusta, is playing well and would love to capture that elusive green jacket. Phil Mickelson is hugely popular with the “patrons” of Augusta’s galleries. Phil’s response to his wife Amy’s cancer treatment and Ernie’s handling of his son’s diagnosis of autism have been widely admired. Should either of them be battling Tiger on Sunday afternoon, it would seem hard to find a reason to root for Woods.

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