Thursday, March 18, 2010

Masters return will put Tiger Woods to the test

PHILADELPHIA — Tiger Woods' return at the Masters after four months of self-imposed exile, will create a circus atmosphere that will test his ability to perform under maximum pressure, PGA Tour players said.

"We have all put him up on such a pedestal, not only in the golf, but we took for granted the personal side, too," golfer Steve Stricker said Wednesday. "We'll have to wait and see what the golf brings when he comes back.

"He's a strong-minded person and it will I'm sure test him to the limits this time."

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.

Speaking on the eve of the USPGA Transitions Championship, Stricker said Woods' will be under the microscope and can probably expect some negative reaction from some golf fans.

"It's going to be a different feeling for him to come back this time," Stricker said. "After a long lay over and really just the uneasiness of what he's going to get from other people."

South African Retief Goosen is back to defend his Transitions title after halting a four-year PGA Tour winless streak with a win last year at Innisbrook.

Two-time winner Goosen fired a one-under 70 in the final round last year, which was good for a one-shot win over Charles Howell and Brett Quigley.

Other winners in this week's field comprise, Sean O'Hair, Mark Calcavecchia, Carl Pettersson, Vijay Singh, John Huston and K.J. Choi.

Goosen said Woods' return on April 8 is good for the game but it could be a bit of an eye opener as well.

"I don't think he's going to be the bad guy," Goosen said. "He's going to be 99.9 percent the good guy. There's going to be that one percent that's going to make comments and that will probably is going to make him feel a little bit like the rest of us.

"Like playing in the US Open, you have comments from people trying to put you off and make mistakes.

"The most interesting thing to see is what's going to happen when he actually gets out and sees what the crowd is going to react like towards the situation.

"What happened was something that happened off the golf course; not on the golf course. If it was a cheating situation on the golf course or something like that, the players would look at you different."

American Notah Begay said people will see a more humble, down to earth Woods when he comes back.

"He is not a super hero or a robot," said Begay, who is a good friend of Woods and has been in contact with him throughout the ordeal. "He didn't break any laws or spend time in jail but he needs to be held accountable. He has been sort of force fed a degree of humility."

Padraig Harrington said Woods' return will have a profound affect on the PGA Tour.

"It's obviously great for golf that he's back," three-time major champion Padraig Harrington said. "It shows the commitment he has to his family. If he came back earlier, that would give him a better chance at Augusta. He would have been putting golf first. Putting his family first by not warming up for Augusta, it's a good statement."

Said British Open champ Stewart Cink on his Twitter social networking page, "Wow, I've had a lot of calls today from friends who have decided to come to the Masters this year."

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