We've just heard that Woods has completed his practise round with Fred Couples, getting an early start on the Augusta National course. He is due to front the media around now, but the level of control that the Men of the Masters exert over THEIR tournament will ensure that the assembled hacks gathered before the World's Greatest (Fallen) Golfer will be far less hostile as they would at any ordinary PGA Tour event. Little wonder then that Woods has chosen to make his return at The Masters!
But it will be his golf which we are primarily interested in. Woods was trained in mental strength by his late father, who often boasted that he was making sure his son would never be bettered in that regard. And until late November 2009, you would have had a strong case that Earl Woods had succeeded. The mental aspect of his golf will be severely challenged this week with all the hoopla going on, but if there's one player in the world you wouldn't write off, it's Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.
We've set the scene for the week ahead, and what a week it promises to be. To whet your appetite further, here's a couple of titbits. First up, there's a story from Richard Hinds of the Sydney Morning Herald where he hints at some interesting "reunions" in Augusta's lush locker rooms - read this bit:
No, the most compelling instalment of the Tiger Show this week will unfold upstairs (former champions) and down (mere mortals) in the surprisingly small, tastefully furnished oak locker rooms when the chastened superstar meets and greets the people whose opinion matters most - his fellow professionals.
Oh to see, then, the unmistakable glint in Phil Mickelson's eye as he generously offers his hand to Woods, the balance of power in one of sport's great rivalries strangely altered not by events on the links, but in the bedroom - and, if all the most salacious reports are true, some other less comfortable locations.
Not content to regularly best Mickelson on the course, Woods' tight-knit supporters had often cast him as a phoney. They said the warm smile with which Mickelson greeted the public disappeared like that of a restaurant maitre de entering the kitchen when he left camera range.
Woods's attack-dog caddie, Steve Williams, stirred the pot when he said: ''I wouldn't call Mickelson a great player because I hate the [expletive].''
Now, the beloved Mickelson is the devoted husband of a wife battling breast cancer. And Tiger is a human punchline.
And from the Golf Channel website, this story about Tom Watson encapsulates just what a special place Augusta National is - enjoy:
When Tom Watson motors down Magnolia Lane next week it will mark his 37th turn down the game’s most hallowed driveway. He’s won twice, come close more times than he’s cares to recall and, at 60 years young, still gets nervous when he walks past the big oak on his way to the first tee.
The place still amazes him, like a few weeks back when he first eyed Augusta National’s new practice facility, “How about that? It’s quite something. The whole setup there is amazing. The people used to come in on a gravel parking lot, now they come through a main gate area that must have 50 openings and it’s covered,” he said with the look of a 10-year-old on Christmas morning.
And as we close, you can now see the Woods media conference on the Golf Channel's website - if you so desire. We'll say this; we've never seen a more contrite Tiger Woods ...