ORLANDO, March 24 – Tiger Woods played a practice round at Augusta National Golf Club on Monday ahead of the Masters while some of his PGA rivals raved about the work they have seen from the 14-time major winner.One day after giving revealing interviews to ESPN and The Golf Channel at Isleworth, world number one Woods made his way to the Georgia course to test the layout where he has won four titles and will seek a fifth starting April 8.
World number one Woods will make his comeback from a break of nearly five months at the year’s first major championship following revelations of adultery that sparked a tabloid firestorm and sent Woods into treatment and therapy.
Ben Hogan is the only player to make a triumphant season debut at the Masters, winning in 1951 and 1953.
But Woods has had some impressive practice sessions last week at Isleworth, according to India’s Arjun Atwal and American John Cook, two of his practice partners who played Monday and Tuesday in the Tavistock Cup event at Isleworth.
"He’s hitting it longer than before but he feels he’s not totally ready," Atwal said in comments on the PGA Tour website.
Cook predicted Woods will win the Masters based upon three days of watching him play.
"I don’t see anybody hit the ball like he does," Cook said. "If he takes that game up there, that’s vintage. I don’t see anybody beating him."
Mark O’Meara, a friend of Woods since the superstar’s early days as a professional, will play practice rounds with Woods in the days before the Masters after being asked to do so by Woods, although O’Meara said they have only exchanged messages, not spoken in person or by phone, since the scandal erupted.
"He has made a mistake and he has come forward and really taken full responsibility," O’Meara said. "Anytime you do something wrong, you have to have accountability and he has got it.
"Now that he has come clean and he is trying to get better, you have to respect that. You don’t respect what happened, but we have to let the guy move forward."
Woods himself has admitted he is nervous about how spectators will react.
"It would be nice to have a couple claps here or there," Woods said. "I also hope they will clap for birdies, too."
Even at Augusta, where decorum is a tradition, there could be some comments yelled at Woods about his affairs.
"There are going to be a lot of distractions, but if anybody can handle it, he can," Sweden’s Henrik Stenson said.