This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
After five months of seclusion, Tiger's comeback at the famous Masters in three weeks is predicted to draw as many viewers as President Obama's inauguration. Augusta, Georgia, come April 7, won't merely be the site of one of golf's four Major events. Rabid curiosity is going to draw the public at large to watch the protagonist of America's biggest story in huge numbers. The Masters' two broadcasters, ESPN the first two days, Thursday and Friday, and CBS the weekend, assuming Tiger makes the cut and plays the weekend, are licking their chops at the certainty of ratings hitting historic highs. But I'm sure there's a quandary there as well.
The broadcast team ostensibly knows their job is to follow the tournament as it unfolds. Their raison d'etre is to portray the players, build the story lines, hope for tight drama, and capture the exultation of that iconic Masters moment, the champion draping the treasured Green Jacket across his proud shoulders. But this won't be the Masters as we know it. And, even though they just can't do it, I'll bet there's at least a theoretical temptation to focus every camera, every reporter, every moment on Tiger. Track him eating breakfast, arriving at the course, tying on his golf cleats, taking every single practice swing, leaning on his club as one of his round partners takes his shot. That's right. We the public would probably rather watch Tiger even when he's not hitting than any one of the other players in the tournament actually swinging his club. We're going to be watching like hawks for any grimace, any eye movement, any body language that might reveal to us his true character, his level of remorse, his newfound humility.
After all, we've only been exposed, a month ago, to a 14-minute, rehearsed, perhaps sincere, but surely non-spontaneous statement from this one-name famous personage who has captured our rapt attention for the better part of the last decade. We are thirsty, to understate it, to see if he can reconstruct his position as athletic demigod, to know if his marriage will ever be repaired.
This was the place, Augusta, back in 1997, where Tiger first became a worldwide magnet for millions of fans. This is where we first understood that we were privy to witnessing one of the greatest athletes of all time. He was special--a muscular, superlative specimen, striding larger than life down the world's fairways, beaming that commercial smile to the point that he became the first billion-dollar athlete earning machine.
Over the past five months, since Thanksgiving time when his multiple sexual indiscretions and embarrassing, overt disrespect of his wife became daily public revelations, Tiger's plummet from grace has been as big a story as his monumental success. Bigger. So there's irony in his choosing the colossal stage of the Masters for his floodlit comeback moment.
Athletically, it no doubt would have been wiser to tune up through an event or two first. In terms of self-protection, Augusta is the wise choice. It's a private club, good old boys keeping press and ill-behaved fans in close check. But on a personal growth level, just as Tiger has confessed that his path right now must follow not putting himself above normal standards of human decency, just as he spends weeks at a time in family therapy, learning to honor his life partner, just as he has promised to quit his prior boorish behavior of obscene language, throwing clubs and dissing fans, he chooses perhaps the sport's most famous tournament to make his charged comeback. He might feel safer in doing so at Augusta, but it would have been classy of him to come back earlier, elsewhere, and give the other world-class players a chance to attract their own rightful, respected attention at the Masters. He still lives, and plays, by his own special rules.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Banner image: Tiger Woods at the 2009 Masters, where he tied for sixth place with an 8-under 280. Photo: Getty Images