Tiger’s Augusta return will make competitors happy

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TV executives aren’t the only ones with big smiles today.

You can bet Rory, Bubba and Jordan have grins as wide as Magnolia Lane after the news Friday that Tiger Woods will return from a two-month break at next week’s Masters.

It’s good news for the event, which welcomes back the sport’s biggest attraction after a year away.

It’s good news for the fans, who now have another reason to get excited about the unofficial kickoff to the golf season.

But it’s particularly good news for the rest of the field. For Rory McIlroy, who will try to complete the career Grand Slam and capture his third major in a row. For Bubba Watson, who will attempt to become just the fourth player to repeat as Masters champion. For Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson and Jason Day and Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia and Jimmy Walker, the top-10 players in search of their first major breakthrough.

With all of the attention sure to be directed at the 104th-ranked player, Woods’ presence alone ensures that the world’s best can quietly go about their business of trying to win a major. With the exception of McIlroy, they won’t have to endure endless big-picture queries in the run-up to Thursday’s opener. And once the tournament begins, they’re guaranteed at least two days of being overshadowed.

Face it: If Woods somehow contends, it’ll lead the nightly highlights show.  

If he blows up, it’ll most certainly lead, too.  

And even if he is somewhere in between, even if he shoots something like that reported five-birdie 74 on Tuesday, well, honestly, it’ll still lead the shows, barring the first 62 in a major or a high-profile controversy.

A frustrating reality, perhaps, but how an increasingly fragile legend fresh off sabbatical performs on the most intimidating golf course in the world in the sport’s biggest pressure-cooker is the indisputable top story next week at Augusta. At least early.

And that’s just what the rest of the field would prefer.    

Remember Valhalla? Media types surrounded Woods’ parking spot on Wednesday, for crying out loud, and when he hobbled his way to a missed cut, it was the top story on every major network and website.

Meanwhile, McIlroy, fresh off an Open win, shot 66-67 and took the lead heading into the weekend.

Even the world No. 1 conceded a few weeks ago that a Tiger sighting could help shift the Masters narrative.

“This year, at least for now, I’m the buildup, the center of that hype,” McIlroy said at Bay Hill. “Whether Tiger decides to play or not, that could change things a little bit.”

Well, the situation just changed for Rory and the rest of the game’s stars.

And you can bet they’re smiling.