Augusta abuzz for the return of 'humiliated' Tiger

World No 1 faces world's press for first time today since revelations of his string of affairs / Drugs and cover-up questions await Woods as paparazzi vow to find where he's staying.
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The Independent Online

"Humbled and humiliated". That is how Paul Azinger expects Tiger Woods to act here today when he finally reappears in a competitive arena following the sex scandal which wrecked his life and destroyed his reputation.

For the first time in almost five months, the world No 1 will play a practice round in front of the paying public and then give his long-awaited press conference in front of the baying media. Never has the first official practice day of a major attracted so much attention. Indeed, never has the Masters attracted so much attention. Augusta is abuzz.

Outside the gates, that is. Inside these hallowed grounds yesterday, it seemed business as usual. Woods joined Mark O'Meara, who was in the middle of a practice round and after the pair had embraced the mood was very relaxed. "I gagged on that one," laughed O'Meara when he hooked his drive off the 10th. "I'm not used to playing with this kid." And so these friends set off with a handful of security personnel for company, but not the public or media. The journalists, TV crews and photographers were allowed on the property, but not on the course and so the atmosphere was eerily tranquil. Today it will erupt. Sport's biggest circus will crash into Woods' golfing heaven.

Already it is cramped on Washington Road, the neon-lit strip which so inappropriately leads to the Augusta National. Trucks with satellite dishes fill the burger-joint car parks and reporters with microphones scout for anyone wearing a visor. It is as close to the action as the vast majority of these "news" operations will get all week. By the start of the tournament proper, there will be at least 10 times as many cameramen outside than inside. And they will be there with the paparazzi.

"We will find out where Tiger's staying," said one of their number yesterday. "We will do whatever it takes and pay whatever it takes to track him down when he's not at the course – believe it." Woods and his minders do believe. He is rumoured to have asked Augusta if he could stay in one of the 10 cabins in the grounds for the week. Augusta apparently said no as it would contravene its rules. So Tiger will have a daily chicken run. But still, one newspaper has reported that he will have 90 private bodyguards in assistance. While that figure is probably over the top, the level of security will be unprecedented for a golfer. As will be the brief of the security men.

While one of their roles will be to repel the advances of celebrity and gossip journalists – TMZ, the website which did most to break the story, has hired a house in close proximity to Magnolia Lane – another will be to repel the advances of bitter mistresses. One in particular – the adult entertainment actress, Joslyn James – has threatened to purchase a ticket on the black market and confront him. Tickets for today are going for a little over £300 and are obviously well within the budget of any mischievous media organisation who might wish to get either their dirt-diggers on site or even Ms James (who incidentally will be performing at a nearby strip club). The security guards will have copies of her picture and will be on the lookout. She shouldn't be too hard to spot.

Who knows? This might be the best day for Ms James to show up and strike when his irons are cold, so to speak. The word is Woods will play at 10am alongside Fred Couples and perhaps O'Meara and even Ian Woosnam. Any hecklers will be evicted.

However, when Woods enters the media centre at 2pm his only protection will come from the Augusta officials. Will the green jackets inform the 120 lucky journalists who have been granted berths in the interview room: "Golf questions only"? Regardless, the grenades will fly. Woods will probably not have to go into the gory details of the affairs – there is quite enough of that in Vanity Fair's 14-page exposé – but he will be asked about the logistical arrangements of the affairs. This will be a nerve-racking day for the members of his management who have been accused of facilitating and then covering up his "transgressions".

There will also be the drugs questions; a controversy not really connected with his extra-maritals but, in the light of his deceit, somewhat, inevitably packaged in. When he was recovering from his knee operation, Woods was treated by a Canadian doctor who is under investigation for administering professional athletes with performance-enhancing drugs. Woods will struggle to avoid the whys and the wherefores. If he tries, the air could well turn confrontational and would remain so all week.

How would Woods react to that? In fact, how he will react to each and every aspect of a surreal situation. Azinger anticipates an unrecognisable figure from the champion of steel to whom golf has become so used. "I think we're going to see a humbled and humiliated Tiger Woods here," said Azinger. "I think he's going to be accessible to the crowd, possibly for the first time ever. Before, Tiger has always shown up in character. He's been like an actor playing a part. Now we're going to see a different Tiger."

Azinger is plainly not sure whether "humbled and humiliated" will suit the most ferocious competitor ever to wreak havoc with titanium. Forget the US Open of one leg, this will be the Masters of a thousand doubts. "I tell you what, this will be the greatest challenge he has ever faced or ever will face," he added. "We talk about the pressure Tiger Woods has embraced in the past. But they loved him then, they immortalised him. This is now a humbled and, in some cases, scorned Tiger Woods. It's a different sort of pressure, a unique pressure.

"All I will care about when I'm watching will be the look on his face, the look in his eyes, his emotions," added Azinger. "We saw an angry Tiger Woods at the British Open [where he missed the cut]. There was a guy who for a career had controlled his emotions and for that week his emotions controlled him. Will his emotions control him again? I want to see what happens when he misses a five-footer for the first time."

Another former Ryder Cup captain believes Woods will have a far greater challenge to overcome before the nasty tiddlers appear on his radar. In Curtis Strange's opinion the make-or-break moment will come on his very first shot. "On that first tee on Thursday he is going to feel more anxiety, more apprehension and more nerves than he's felt in his life," said Strange, who captained Woods at the 2002 Ryder Cup.

"It's Augusta and there won't be much chit-chat from the patrons going on. But I don't think there will need to be for it to affect Tiger. When he walks on the first tee how can he look at everyone there – I don't care if it's players, if it's patrons, if it's sponsors, if it's members – and not think to himself, 'What are they thinking about me? How much do they know about what I did? What do they feel about me?' It's how he copes with that which will be key."

But before Woods can even reach that Rubicon he must survive the opening skirmishes. All today holds in store is a practice round in front of golf fans he knows and a sit-down with golf writers he knows. The problem is they all thought they knew him, too. They want to see the real Tiger. Will he dare stand up?