AUGUSTA, Georgia – Tiger Woods made a quiet return to Augusta National on Sunday to complete a weekend of practice for the Masters, minus the media crush trying to document his every move.
It was far different from last year.
Woods had been away from golf for nearly five months while coping with the crisis in his personal life. His arrival at Augusta on the Sunday before tournament week was the first time the media had seen him on the golf course since Australia the previous November.
This time, he was one of several players soaking up a warm, peaceful afternoon with no fans on the property and no media allowed on the golf course except in the area near the first and 10th tees, and ninth and 18th greens.
He played with Masters rookie Jeff Overton, and Rory Sabbatini joined them.
Missing from the group was caddie Steve Williams, who was home in New Zealand. Williams was not due to arrive until Monday evening, so his boss used an Augusta National caddie for his two practice rounds on the weekend.
Woods was not expected to be back on the course until Tuesday morning.
It’s a different routine for the four-time Masters champion, although so much in his life has changed. His divorced was finalized last August, a week after the final major of the year. Woods and his ex-wife, Elin, share parenting of their two children.
Then again, the weekend practice is becoming more common.
Practice rounds for the majors can take so long during tournament week that more players are preparing on the weekend, when there are fewer players on the course.
Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy arrived Friday night and had two days of practice. K.J. Choi, who missed the cut in Houston, played with U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Lion Kim. Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw took advantage of privileges afforded only Masters champions – they each played with a guest.
Most of the players were gone by late afternoon, with no one in the clubhouse to watch defending champion Phil Mickelson win the Houston Open. That was sure to make him the top favorite at a Masters that had been lacking one.
Mickelson moves to No. 3 in the world with his win, which ended hopes of Europe having the top five players in the world ranking when the Masters begins. Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood remain at Nos. 1 and 2, with Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey at Nos. 4 and 5.
Woods will fall to No. 7, the lowest his ranking has been since he was No. 13 going into the 1997 Masters, which he won by 12 shots.