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Tiger Woods Is Back At Augusta -- But for How Long?
April 9, 2015  | By Gerald Jordan

Every head bowed. All eyes closed.

No, wait.

That was last week, leading up to Easter and all.

But this is golf’s holy week, and the cathedral doors will be open at Augusta National for the repentant to come to the altar. And judging by his performance at the Masters press conference this week, no one is more repentant than Tiger Woods.

Yes, he of the short, clipped answers after a bad round. He who couldn’t locate the greens with a range-finder just about three months ago. He who missed the cut in the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. He who then followed that by succumbing to horrible back pain that forced him to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

Yes, that Tiger Woods.

If ever there was a sacrilegious parallel for resurrection, it’s the 2015 Masters and the return to golf for Tiger Woods. The brilliant talent whose otherworldly skills left competitors in awe, and made galleries roar their approval, came crashing to the Earth in a heap of domestic problems that fueled his divorce and downfall. Mix in a couple of surgeries, and Tiger reverted to Eldrick Woods, the poor kid whose chips sailed across the green a few weeks ago, just like shots by the mere mortal weekend hackers who adored him.

Tiger's fall from No. 1 in the world to No. 111 invites whispers of “it’s over” from pessimists, and sincere questions from optimists, as to whether Woods can defeat his demons, whatever they might be.

So his “indefinite leave” from the game is over, at least for this week. Nothing is permanent, particularly for a player formerly so phenomenal that his comebacks are watched with scrutiny and analyses that might as well have Roman numerals affixed.

Officials at the Masters are happy. CBS is happy, albeit guardedly so. Tiger certainly seems happy. Views from the constant cameras that followed him over his practice Tuesday had Woods hugging just about every fellow competitor that he greeted. He gave Miguel Angel Jimenez a big hug. No report yet how how it went with Sergio Garcia.

Maybe Tiger won’t make the cut and be around for the weekend. The Golf Channel is on hyperdrive.

The skinny young kid who set fire to Augusta National in 1997 with a 12-stroke victory, won back-to-back Masters in 2001 and 2002, and won again in the 2005 playoff, hasn’t gotten another green jacket since.

But there’s something about the Masters tradition (“unlike any other,” says CBS’s Jim Nantz) that excites Woods. In turn, he excites galleries and TV audiences.

That’s why he had the golf press in the palm of his hand this week at the Masters press conference. He was humble. He was humorous. He was frank about where his game was. He was confident about where he says his game is. His mind seemed free of the “clutter” that Brandel Chamblee said bedeviled Woods’ mind. And the man who left Torrey Pines, saying he would not return until his game was ready, seemed happy to be back.

The Masters needs Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods needs the Masters.

Golf agnostics will doubt that Woods will make the cut. The Masters field, which is decided by invitation – with a lifetime invite extended to Masters champions – is relatively small this year, at 97 players. A missed cut seems more than cruel for the man who at 24 years old reached the career grand slam of winning all four major championships. At 39, the reports are that he’s finished.

The upbeat, optimistic, avowed “I worked my ass off” Tiger Woods at the press conference this week seemed anything but finished.

He and the faithful will find out, beginning 1:48 EDT Thursday when Tiger, Jimmy Walker and Jamie Donaldson tee off. ESPN will begin showing the first round at 3 p.m. ET Thursday, and continue the telecast until 7:30, then repeat that schedule Friday before giving way to CBS on the weekend. The CBS schedule is 3-7 p.m. Saturday and, for the final round, 2-7 p.m. ET Sunday.

The forecast calls for rain, which should make the 7,400 plus yards play even longer. That tilts the favor needle toward the young guns, notably Rory McIlroy, No. 1 in the world and a kid blessed with a missile for a driver. Or maybe Jordan Spieth, Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson – all of them young and strong. The undulations at Augusta and the linoleum greens, however, favor experience over youth – even though a young Tiger Woods tore the place to shreds. That was before the course was redesigned to “Tiger-proof” Augusta National.

Join the congregation in the pews at the Amen Corner. This one could be one for the ages, or it could be just another example of why Tiger Woods is finished.

Some of those prayers are bound to get through.

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