AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 5- Tiger Woods prepared for his first round of golf before ticket buyers for nearly five months on Monday at the Masters ahead of his first news conference since a sex scandal overtook him.
World number one Woods played a practice round Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club when the famed course was closed to the public and will practice Monday with Fred Couples for an expected early morning session.
"It’s going to be interesting to see how he handles his return to public life," US golf legend Tom Watson said. "He messed up. He knows he messed up. The world knows he messed up."
Even Woods is uncertain how spectators will react to him in the wake of his admissions of infidelity and more than a dozen women claiming affairs with the pitchman who became the world’s first billion-dollar athlete.
"I’m a little nervous about that," Woods said in a television interview last month. "It would be nice to hear a couple claps here and there."
Woods has won 71 US PGA events, 11 shy of the all-time record, and 14 major crowns, four less than the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.
The celebrated golfer is a four-time Masters champion but has not won at Augusta National since 2005. Ben Hogan is the only golfer to win at the Masters in a season debut — a feat Woods is seeking to reproduce — doing so in 1951 and 1953.
"It’s going to be hard for him to not only worry about playing but all the hype," world number two Steve Stricker said. "We will have to wait and see what the golf brings. This may fire him up even more and make him stronger.
"I’m not going to judge him and I’m not going to treat him any differently."
Woods apologized in February and again in two TV interviews in March, saying he was "living a life of a lie" when cheating on his wife.
"People will be curious," said Irishman Padraig Harrington, a three-time major winner. "Golf has held him in such high esteem and this whole thing from a golfing standpoint has been disappointing."
In a sport where players are expected to call violations upon themselves for the smallest of errors, Woods cheating on wife Elin could cause rivals to regard him in a lesser light.
But South Africa’s Retief Goosen said "the guys will look at him the same."
"What happened was something that happened off the golf course," Goosen added.
"If it was a cheating situation on the golf course, the players would look at you different. But it’s a personal thing and it had no effect really on the golf besides TV ratings."
Woods’s return comes with a promise to have greater respect for the sport and his place in it, but whether he can keep from yelling obscenities after poor shots remains to be seen.
"I’m trying to become a better person each and every day," Woods said.