2010-04-08 / Sports

He’s still Tiger

Sports VIEW
About a year ago, there was a pretty good TV ad coinciding with Tiger Woods’ return to golf after his eightmonth layoff for knee surgery.

Dan Nilsen — Sports Writer Dan Nilsen — Sports Writer The Nike spot opened with other PGA Tour golfers winning, smiling, pumping fists, hoisting trophies and generally enjoying themselves in the absence of the world’s greatest player — all to the upbeat tune of Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.”

Then Tiger walked into the clubhouse, dressed to play again.

The music stopped. The smiles dropped, and the golfers sighed. It was hilarious. That ad popped into mind the other day when Woods announced he would play in the Masters this week, ending another lengthy, albeit far different kind of layoff.

These circumstances aren’t so funny, of course, with Woods struggling to save his marriage after the exposure of his rampant infidelity. Nobody’s advertising this comeback, except the TV networks that know what his appearance will do for their ratings.

Sponsors have backed off, and fans have cooled toward one of the most popular figures on the planet.

It’s an awkward reunion at best this time, and it’ll be interesting to see the reception Woods gets from the galleries. Most, I suspect, will be forgiving and applaud his return, as they did during a practice round Monday.

There will be boos and snide remarks, perhaps, some brazen enough to incur the wrath of Stevie Williams, Tiger’s buffer zone of a caddie.

There may be some uneasy moments with other golfers, too, and I feel for the guys playing in his group.

Once Woods gets inside the ropes, though, I think all of this fades away.

No matter what problems he’s facing off the course — and family breakup is about as big as they get — they won’t affect him on it. It may sound cold, but Tiger Woods just isn’t the type to be bothered by outside distractions once he’s locked in on winning a golf tournament.

If you’ve ever seen him walk from the clubhouse to the first tee, you can’t miss that focus. He stares at the ground the whole way, ignoring the autograph

hounds lining the ropes.

Did anyone else notice the

steely glare he gave Phil

Mickelson as they shook hands prior to Round 4 of last year’s Masters? In a

friendly, gentlemen’s

game, Woods is out

to kill.

Especially in a major.

You think it’s a coincidence that his first tournament back is the Masters? I think his biggest regret, golfwise, is that he didn’t get a warmup tournament.

The whole three months that Tiger hid from the world, my biggest question wasn’t how many flings he’d had or how his marriage would survive. I was more curious about when he’d be back, and I had one tournament circled in mind.

He just wasn’t going to miss the Masters. He wants Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories more than anything else in golf, and he wasn’t going to pass up playing in one, especially with his health becoming more of a factor every year.

Woods is only four majors away from tying Nicklaus, but he’s also 34 now, with four knee surgeries behind him and maybe more to come. Nicklaus won six of his majors after he turned 34, but he didn’t have the knee problems Tiger does —or the family issues.

Woods might not win the Masters in his first tournament back—although he’s favored by oddsmakers —and it could be weeks before he wins again. But it won’t be because his mind is weighed down with personal problems.

The party is over for the rest of the PGA Tour. That sound you hear is the sigh of every other player at Augusta National this week.

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