Right Place Right Time


The Masters works because the U.S. Open is too far away. The Masters works because Bay Hill, a great event, is shoehorned into a sprawling neighborhood and already a logistical challenge, sans zoo. The Masters works because the Tavistock Cup in not a real competition. The Masters works because Augusta National is as close to a Tour autocracy as one can get.

But mostly the Masters works as the site of the “return” because it is where mind, game and calendar collide into a perfect storm, however imperfect Tiger Woods’ current situation may be.

According to Woods’ own statement released just before midday March 16 he called Arnold Palmer and Joe Lewis, Mr. Tavistock, to explain why the pin went directly to the first week of April on his competitive calendar. Make no mistake, both breathed a sigh of relief.

Woods’ return would be a boost for either the Arnold Palmer Invitational or unofficial Tavistock Cup, but at Augusta National, where no detail is left unattended, it’s a reason to dig in.

“They will control everything,” Palmer said. “If there is a place in the world you can do this it will be there.”

The question will be asked over the next two fortnights whether Woods is bigger than the Masters? Check back on April 11 for that answer. What is not up for debate is if the world No. 1 is bigger than the API, to say nothing of the Tavistock Cup? He is, with apologies to the golf purists who cling to the notion that no one is bigger than the game.

When the API surfaced as a possible site of Woods’ return the discussion immediately turned to a press center that had long ago surpassed “max. occupancy” and an aged infrastructure that leaves no room for the fleet of satellite trucks and paparazzi that would descend on central Florida.

At Augusta National, that is not a problem. Media credentials for this year’s Masters were received via e-mail last week, and there are three things the powers that be at the National do really well – pimento-cheese sandwiches, golf tournaments and deadlines.

There is a large parking lot adjacent the Hooters Restaurant on Washington Road that will have room for an army of main-stream, and tabloid, media. But that will be as close as they get to Magnolia Lane, a fact that likely influenced Woods’ decision almost as much as his stellar resume on the Georgia gem.

Woods normally talks to the media on Tuesday at Augusta National. Whether he continues that tradition, and whether he approaches anything even close to full disclosure, remains to be seen. But Team Tiger is aware that the Masters media center is populated with sports and golf writers. There will difficult questions, to be sure, but nothing compared to the discomfort that would have awaited him at Bay Hill.

CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus said Woods’ first tournament “will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years,” and there is no better place for such a spectacle than between the pines and magnolias.

It is a risk showing up at the year’s first Grand Slam gala cold. He can plow through as many range pellets as he’s likes on the Isleworth practice tee under the watchful eye of swing coach Hank Haney, but there is no substitute for live fire.

Competitively he could have used the “reps” at Bay Hill, where he has won with walk-off putts at the last hole the last two years. Even the Tavistock Cup, a 10-man team event, offers a measure of competitive tune-up and, at the least, a chance to give 19 fraternity brothers a chance to get the awkward “How ya been?” out of the way.

But if anyone can debut with a “W” it is Woods, despite a record that is mixed when it comes to cold comebacks.

At the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot following the death of his father he carded rounds of 76-76, missed the cut at a major for the first time as a professional, and didn’t sugarcoat things afterward.

“I was not ready to play golf,” Woods said then.

While the 2008 U.S. Open after two months off and knee surgery will perhaps go down as his greatest competitive achievement – one- or two-legged division.

But this time it is different. Physically Woods is fine and after five months of inactivity and intense therapy the thought of golf between Augusta National’s manicured ropes must be a welcome relief.

“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect,” Woods wrote in his statement on Tuesday, with an eye toward history, recent and otherwise. “After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta.”

And that’s perhaps the best reason why the Masters works, because it is finally time to move on