Tiger master of his domain

Tiger Woods will begin trying to restore a reputation battered by marital infidelities at next...

Tiger Woods will begin trying to restore a reputation battered by marital infidelities at next month's Masters tournament. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

At first blush, it seems like a crazy idea.

After nearly five months away, enduring endless anguish over his ruinous off-course behaviour, Tiger Woods is going to make his return to the sport he has dominated at one of the most important tournaments in golf.

How can his game, neglected while he tried to sort through the debris of his personal life, be up to the challenge that the Masters poses?

Most times in the past when Woods has come back after a layoff, he has tuned himself up at a lesser event.

The only time he did not play a tuneup before a major was in 2006 after his father died prior to the U.S. Open.

He shot matching rounds of 76 at Winged Foot, missing the cut.

That said, when you think for a while about this latest decision it begins to make a lot of sense.

Here are five reasons why.

1. The Course

This an easy call for Tiger.

Woods feels as comfortable on Augusta National as he does on any golf course he plays. This is where he won his first major championship in 1997 and since then he has won three more Masters titles.

He knows every nuance of the slippery, undulating greens. If there is some rust on his long game, he knows where he can miss fairways and still give himself chances for birdies.

2. The Club

There is no golf tournament that is more tightly controlled than the Masters. The members of Augusta National are some of the wealthiest, single-minded businessmen in the world.

They couldn't care less what the rest of us think of them. They run their tournament their way and if anybody gets out of line, whether it's a patron or a media member, it's -- 'Y'all don't come back now.'

Media accreditation closed long ago, so don't expect a phalanx of paparazzi inside the golf course. You can bet that, ever since the Tiger firestorm struck in late November, the Masters communications staff has been vigilant.

Every accreditation is vetted carefully and if an application has a whiff of 'celebrity media' about it, it will be denied.

3. The Gallery

Masters patrons are a sporting crowd like no other.

The Masters has been sold out since 1972, when a waiting list for tickets was established.

By 1978, the waiting list was abolished as a waste of time, because nobody gave up their tickets. Even practice round passes are like gold, sold by lottery only.

So, year after year, the same people come to eastern Georgia to worship at the church of Augusta National. This is not the Phoenix Open, populated by thousands of drunken college students.

This is the most reverential golf crowd anywhere, aware totally that they walk this hallowed ground at the whim of the members.

Heckle Tiger Woods?

This April there would be no quicker way to get hustled off the property. You can be sure Tiger will have his usual bloated galleries but don't expect him to have to deal with the kinds of comments he might hear elsewhere.

4. The Sponsors

The Masters is one of those rare events, like the Kentucky Derby or the Indianapolis 500, that transcends its sport.

People who don't know a sand wedge from a sandwich tune in because it's a tradition, a harbinger of spring and a rare glimpse at some of the most beautiful golf scenery anywhere.

It creates huge television audiences, and those audiences have big money to spend. In the history of sports, TV has never had a pitchman to compare with Eldrick Woods.

He is sport's first billionaire athlete but during his recent, self-inflicted troubles, he was shedding revenue faster than Toyota. Some sponsors bailed, a few remained.

To come back at the Masters with so many pairs of eyes watching around the world, Woods is rewarding those who stuck by him and trying to stick it to those who didn't.

5. The Challenge

A few weeks back, in his controlled, televised statement, Woods made some lofty promises about his future behaviour on course. He knows from the time he steps up for his first Masters practice shot until he hits his last shot on Sunday that his every move, his every nuanced facial expression will be analyzed.

This is his chance to make good on those promises.

No swearing. No club-throwing.

He vowed to be more respectful of the game. If those turn out to be empty words, then it will make his entire mea culpa ring falsely.

Big stage. Big expectations.

Just the way Tiger Woods used to like it.

KEN.FIDLIN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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