Every so often, Tiger Woods has seemed, well, human.
Not the guy who walked on water in the EA Sports ad. Or the robot who refused to crack a smile while clubbing the field by 15 shots at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Two such moments stand out: In 2006, Woods didn't play between the Masters and U.S. Open while mourning his father, Earl. Observers recall that Woods looked sharp in practice rounds for the Open but had trouble focusing during the main event. He shot 76-76, missing the cut in a major for the first time in his professional career.
"I wasn't ready to play golf," he admitted.
The second instance came two weeks ago during his televised interview on ESPN. Asked what kind of reception he expects to receive at Augusta National, Woods replied: "I don't know. I'm a little nervous about that, to be honest with you."
Woods knows it will help if he plays well at the Masters, which begins in one week. To do that, he'll have to overcome a 144-day layoff since his last competitive round, at the Australian Masters.
How long ago was that? For perspective, consider that Final Four darling Butler was one game into its season.
Both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, with 10 green jackets between them, doubted that they could have won the Masters after such a long time away.
"You can't get very sharp not playing," Palmer said last week. "Even just practicing won't do it. You have to compete. You can take off a couple of weeks, but five months?"
The challenge is two-fold. There's the obvious - converting the delicate shots that make Augusta National one of the toughest courses in the world.
"All those little scoring shots," said 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir. "I know that for myself.
"You may be hitting the ball well, but you just don't seem to get that extra up-and-down, that little par save you need to keep the round going."
Said Bubba Watson: "It's putting and chipping. Knocking off the rust and getting the feel under certain situations."
Perhaps more significant and definitely harder to quantify is the mental grind.
"The Masters takes a long time to play," said Billy Mayfair, who has competed in 12. "You're out there five hours. And it's a hard golf course to walk, so you're going to get tired. I don't really feel like his conditioning will be an issue, but his concentration for five hours could be."
Tour pro Mark Wilson said he makes "more silly mistakes" after he returns to competition after a layoff.
"I tend to pull the wrong club or hit to a pin I shouldn't have," he said. "I get up to the green and say to myself: What was I thinking?
"Tiger, he's a different bird, though."