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Woods has a Masters plan

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  March 16, 2010 01:46 PM

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"I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year" -- Tiger Woods on Feb. 19.

So, now we know when and where the Tiger Woods Redemption Tour tees off, and it's Augusta National on April 8.

Is anyone surprised? Playing the Masters was part of Tiger's master plan all along.

There was no way that Woods, who grew up with a list of Jack Nicklaus's record 18 major victories adorning his bedroom wall, was going to miss the Masters. Whether you believe the sincerity of Woods's televised apology last month or buy into his treatment for sex addiction, you knew that nothing was going to stop Woods's pursuit of Nicklaus.

Adulterous guilt be darned, Woods, who has 14 major wins at age 34, is too close to let any opportunity to win a major pass. He'll worry about us passing judgment later.

Perhaps the only real surprise is that the world's greatest golfer and most infamous philanderer isn't going to take to the links before the Masters for a tuneup tournament. Woods hasn't played in a competitive tournament since the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, 12 days before his carefully constructed image started to crack.

The fact Woods, a four-time Masters winner, is willing to allow his return tournament to be the grandest stage golf has to offer is a sign that, despite the public relations battering he has taken since the November night he escorted his Escalade into a fire hydrant and a tree, the singular focus and determination that made him one of the most transcendent athletes we've ever seen remains intact.

It is a level of concentration so famous that one of Woods's erstwhile sponsors, Gatorade, named a drink after it called Tiger Focus Red Drive, with Woods's eyes hauntingly staring back from the label at the imbiber.  

You can bet the focus will be fully on Woods at Augusta National, although the tournament's ascetic media setting should help prevent Tiger from facing a fusillade of probing personal questions, the same questions he wouldn't even entertain in his staged apology.

The Masters provides a fitting stage for Woods to try to separate himself from the salacious and tawdry details of his downfall. Playing well at Augusta can do for Woods what no Ari Fleischer spin campaign possibly can -- make us remember why we liked Woods in the first place.

Augusta is where the legend of Tiger Woods as a professional golfer was born.

It was at the 1997 Masters that Woods went from an intriguing golf prodigy to a pop culture icon, after he made history on the game's most hallowed grounds by becoming the tournament's youngest winner ever. A baby-faced 21-year-old, Woods captivated the entire country with his record-setting performance to become the first "Cablasian," the term Woods later used on "Oprah" to describe his diverse ethic background, to wear the green jacket.

Woods won by a record 12 strokes and set a Masters four-round record by shooting an 18-under par 270.

People were both taken and taken aback by Woods and his incomparable talent. Even those who had never swung a club were suddenly interested in golf -- both playing and watching.

Woods was a symbol of hope and can-do. Remember those Nike commercials where children of different ages and ethnicities would say, "I'm Tiger Woods"?

Woods may believe that a similar transcendent performance at Augusta will make us remember the toothy, awkward, endearing golfer we fell in love with and not the surly, self-indulgent, petulant professional athlete who had rubbed some golf fans and observers the wrong way with his boorish behavior even before the cheating scandal broke.

But that's just an ancillary public relations benefit for Woods. This is more about personal peace and his obsessive chase of Nicklaus than restoring his reputation.

Getting back to golf is the best therapy for Woods. It's his sanctuary. The one place on earth where he can be the same person he was before the scandal, where nothing has to change.

There will be no asterisk in the record book if Woods passes Nicklaus because he wasn't faithful to his wife. Greatness is greatness, even if it comes with character flaws, as it often does.

Woods's image has been dragged through the bunker and like a driving range ball is full of dents and scratches, but he can bounce back.

No, winning one golf tournament isn't going to remove the taint from Tiger. He's not going to get a complete mulligan by winning the Masters, but it gets him closer to Nicklaus and farther removed from the scandal.

The hoi polloi have a taste for schadenfreude, but remain ultimately fraudulent when it comes to abandoning their sullied heroes.

Look at Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who was disgraced after he was accused of rape in a Colorado hotel in 2003. (The case was dismissed in 2004). It took Bryant a few years to reboot his image, but after leading the Lakers to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2008 and 2009 and winning a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics and the NBA title last year the rape allegation is rarely brought up.

Bryant's basketball brilliance has dimmed the memory of his alleged deviant behavior.

Woods's genius as a golfer -- and pursuit of the sport's majors mark -- can eventually do the same. 
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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