Spander: Tiger’s back in the swing of things

It’s not so much how Tiger Woods responds, how he plays when he is again in competitive golf — and yes the choice of the Masters becomes more sensible by the moment — but how we respond to Tiger Woods.

Already, Sean McManus, the president of CBS news and sports, decreed Tiger’s return “will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration the past 10 or 15 years.”

Ridiculously overstated, but let us not forget CBS, fronted the first two rounds by ESPN, owns the rights to the Masters, a sporting carnival it pompously declares “a tradition unlike any other.”

For 3½ months now, we’ve been bombarded by news of Woods and his mistresses and his lost sponsors and his rehab. And all the while, hovering in the distance, was the question when he would get back to where he once belonged.

When he again would do what made him rich and famous.

Now, after the speculation, we know. We know the year’s first major, the Masters, will be Tiger’s first tournament since (interestingly) the Australian Masters, which he won. No warm-ups. No Bay Hill or Tavistock Cup.

At Augusta, behind the huge hedges which separate the course from the real world, behind the artifice in which spectators are deemed “patrons,” and crowd is never to be referred to as a mob, Woods will find protection.

There won’t be any gossip tabloids or obnoxious fans.

“The Masters is where I won my first major,” Woods said on his Web site, “and I view this tournament with great respect … I think Augusta is where I need to be even though it’s been awhile since I last played.”

So, do we, the public, the admirers, the skeptics, the disillusioned, the disenchanted, immediately embrace Woods? Do we shake off the scandal and worry only about the golf? Will his performance affect our thinking?

Tiger has done miraculous things as a golfer. He returned after knee surgery in January 2003 and won the first tournament he entered, the Buick. Then there was the 2008 U.S. Open, on the same San Diego course, Torrey Pines, when Woods had a torn knee ligament and limped and grimaced to the championship.

We don’t expect Tiger to win the 2010 Masters, but we anticipate he might win the 2010 Masters. So does the British bookmaker William Hill, which, outrageous as it appears, has made Woods the 4-1 favorite.

Woods would not be playing if he were not prepared, emotionally and physically. He left golf for six weeks after the death of his father in May 2006 and, in what might be considered circumstances similar to the present, entered the U.S. Open. For the first time as a professional, Tiger missed a cut in a major.

“I don’t care if you had what transpired in my life, recent or not,” said Woods at the time. “Poor execution is never going to feel very good. I was not ready to play golf.”

He’s ready now. We’re ready for a new Tiger as a person and the old Tiger as a golfer.

“When I do return,” he promised, “I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.”

He gets his opportunity beginning at the Masters.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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