Woods to return to golf at Masters

Baltimore Sun

For decades, minority golfers from Lee Elder to Lee Trevino didn't feel entirely comfortable playing the Masters.

But in choosing the venue for his return to competitive golf, Tiger Woods appears to have found his perfect match. The athlete who longs to control everything will tee it up at a club that restricts media riffraff and prides itself on having the most courteous "patrons" in sports.

It's also where Woods scored his transcendent victory in 1997, plus triumphs in 2001, 2002 and 2005.

"The Masters is where I won my first major, and I view this tournament with great respect," Woods said Tuesday in a 217-word statement released on his Web site. "After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta.

"The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it's been a while since I last played."

Woods hasn't teed it up professionally since Nov. 15 at the Australian Masters, where the world's No. 1 earned his 82nd career victory. Two weeks later, he crashed his SUV near his Florida home and his world became unglued as a result of a sex scandal that has cost him several sponsorships and threatened his marriage.

"I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy, and I am continuing my treatment," Woods stated. "Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life."

Various reports had Woods returning to competition at next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Tavistock Cup, a PGA Tour-sanctioned exhibition at his home club near Orlando, Fla.

But Woods chose the Masters, which is scheduled for April 8-11, even though it's played at one of the world's most unforgiving courses. Since World War II, only one player has made his first official event of the year the Masters and won it: Ben Hogan in 1951 and 1953.

About an hour before Woods' announcement, Palmer confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel that Woods would not defend his title at Palmer's namesake tournament.

Palmer said his last conversation with Woods ended with both saying: "See you in Augusta."

Rocco Mediate, who lost in a playoff to Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, said he had expected Woods to return to Palmer's event at Bay Hill.

"It's easy, it's close," Mediate told ESPN. "But he may not be ready. I don't know. I haven't talked to him. I'm not really surprised. It's the safest place. It's the most controlled place."

The news had to thrill PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who on Monday bristled on a conference call after being asked about the Tour's 18 percent dropoff in TV ratings.

"I know the Tiger thing is important," said Finchem, adding he "takes issue" with the numbers. "When he plays and he's in the hunt on the weekend, he spikes ratings. … But don't turn it and make it a negative when it doesn't need to be a negative."

There will be no negative for ESPN or CBS, which share broadcast rights for the Masters.

CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus said before Tuesday's announcement that Woods' return would be "the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 to 15 years."

ESPN executive vice president John Wildhack said: "Tiger's return to competitive golf will surely be one of the biggest stories the sporting world has seen."

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