'Golf needs Tiger back'

The return of Tiger Woods promises to make the Masters a ratings bonanza. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)

The return of Tiger Woods promises to make the Masters a ratings bonanza. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)

IAN HUTCHINSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

It was only a matter of time before the question was asked, so 11-time PGA Tour champion John Cook replied with grace, even though he was supposed to be talking up the Montreal Championship, an inaugural Champions Tour event to be played in early July in Blainville, Que.

"We've gone five minutes and haven't had a Tiger question," said the 1983 Canadian Open winner just a day after Tiger Woods announced that he would make his return to golf in three weeks at the Masters.

If they haven't already, players will have to get used to the Tiger questions, be it at the exhibition Tavistock Cup or next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, two events that speculators had picked for Woods' return from the sex scandal that turned his life upside-down.

Being a close friend and mentor of Woods, Cook knows he will especially be a target as the big day draws closer and admits to feeling a little Tiger fatigue as he goes about his day-to-day business. That doesn't mean that he doesn't support his buddy.

"I've been very consistent in my message that I've missed my friend and he's taken care of his issues and he certainly will be moving forward and I think being back playing competitive golf is a step for him," said Cook.

"He knows he's got things to work on as well, but you know what? Golf has missed him, I've missed him as a friend and we're ready to get back to a little bit of normal," he added.

Whether this year's Masters will be described as normal remains to be seen.

The return of Woods promises to make it a ratings bonanza and the early word is that tickets are a much hotter commodity than usual, making the spotlight on Woods, a four-time Masters champ, even more intense than what he's used to, at least in the early going.

How other players, some who were critical of Woods as the scandal unraveled, react to the onslaught of Tiger questions over the next three weeks should be interesting, but Cook says they'll put it in perspective.

"Golf needs Tiger back. Tiger is coming back. The players will welcome him with open arms," said Cook.

"Tiger didn't do anything to hurt the game of golf. He might have hurt himself personally, but he didn't cheat at golf, he didn't gamble on golf, he didn't hurt golf in any way, so I think the guys are ready for their friend to come back and be part of that fraternity again," he said.

"Take nothing away from the PGA Tour," said Cook, who has mixed feelings about Augusta as the launching pad.

"They have young players and some fine stories. If they're going to play, they want to beat the best and with Tiger coming back, the game of golf is ready for that." Augusta National keeps close tabs on fans and media at the first major of the year. Any yahoo behaviour in the gallery will be dealt with through expulsion, while the gossip/celebrity media will not be receiving credentials. From that perspective, it makes sense for Woods to immerse himself in golf.

"As we all know, it's a very controlled environement. The patrons there are golf fans. They respect the game, they respect the players, they respect the tradition of the Masters tournament," said Cook, who thought Woods might try to get a tournament behind him instead of going to Augusta cold.

"You can practice and play all you want, but to get back out there and get competitive again is another thing, so we'll see how that goes," he said.

"I would maybe have liked to have seen him play one other event a few weeks before, just to see where your game is, see what your equipment's like, kind of shake off those nerves of having to make a two and three-footer.

"Once you have to sign your name on a scorecard, it's a little bit different than just playing at home. In that respect, maybe he might have tried to play an event before, but I certainly understand why he chose Augusta and the controlled environment."

HUTCHGOLF@NETZERO.COM


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