ORLANDO, Florida — Tiger Woods' announcement Tuesday that he will return to competitive golf at the Masters next month touched off joy around the golf world that the world's top-ranked player will be back.
Woods has not played since winning the Australian Masters in mid-November after a sex scandal in which he admitted cheating on wife Elin, apologizing for igniting a tabloid frenzy where more than a dozen women have claimed affairs.
"We need him back out here," said Rocco Mediate, who lost to Woods in a playoff at the 2008 US Open. "If anybody can cut through that stuff, he can cut through it. We'll see. I don't think it's going to knock him down too much."
For those who rely upon the excitement and audience he brings to golf, Woods means money. Even rivals who battle every week to beat Woods say his return gives them an ultimate foe, a drawing card who has boosted prize money levels.
"It's great," South African golfer Trevor Immelman said. "It's tough for a sport when your number one player is not participating. It's fantastic for the game and for the tour and our sponsors to have him back. That's a no-brainer."
US PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem looks for Woods to try and capture such prizes as Player of the Year and a playoff crown by appearing in several tour events, although Woods has indicated nothing beyond his Masters comeback.
"I do anticipate a full schedule," Finchem said. "Tiger plays to win and he plays to win everything... To do that he has got to play some tournaments. I look for him returning to his fairly robust schedule."
Woods said he did not think he could be ready to play in time for the Arnold Palmer Invitational next week, the reigning champion telephoning the event's legendary namesake to say he would miss the event for the first time as a pro.
"He sounded good. He had some zip in his voice. He sounded just fine," Palmer told Golf Channel. "He said that he was sorry, that he really didn't feel his game was up to speed to start playing this early."
Palmer expects the comeback path will be a difficult one for Woods.
"I would think for Tiger it's going to be tough. It's going to be something that's going to take him a little time to get used to," Palmer said.
"He knows what he wants to do with his life and the way he's going to handle it and I guess we're going to give him that respect."
But British bookmaker William Hill made Woods a 4-1 Masters favorite just 90 minutes after he announced he would play at Augusta National in the year's first major championship on April 8-11.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he wins just because he's that type of guy," Swedish golfer Carl Pettersson said.
"I'm sure he's going to be motivated," England's Justin Rose said. "The best way for he to put this all to rest is to win the golf tournament so that's obviously going to be his goal."
Royal and Ancient Golf Club spokesman Malcolm Booth was happy to hear about the return of Woods, who is expected to seek his fourth British Open crown in July at St. Andrews, the fabled Scottish course where he has two prior titles.
"We're pleased to hear that Tiger is to return to golf," Booth said. "Golf needs the world number one to be playing."
Rivals are as curious as fans to see how the scandal will affect Woods on and off the course.
"It's going to be very interesting to see what happens at Augusta," said England's Ross Fisher. "There is always an extra element when you have the best golfer in the world taking part."
"It means his family, him and everybody thinks he has got his life where it needs to be and he's just working on his game," US golfer Bubba Watson said.
"It's going to be great for him to get out of the house and play some golf. Hopefully everything's good in his life and he's ready to go and he'll start performing like he used to."
US veteran Jim Furyk said he will be glad to see Woods playing again and whatever is good for Woods will be best for the sport.
"We want the best player in the world out playing golf again," Furyk said. "He's got to do what's best for him. What's good for the best player in the world is probably good for the big picture."
John Daly, a popular US tour veteran, expects Woods to demonstrate "business as usual. Him being inside the ropes, he'll be focused on what he needs to do.
"It's going to be all business for Tiger. I'm glad to see him back. I don't think it's a comeback for Tiger. Tiger doesn't have anything to prove."