Tiger Woods will start in next-to-last group for Masters opening round

By Doug Ferguson, AP
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Woods in next-to-last group for Masters’ 1st round

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Thousands of fans are following Tiger Woods around Augusta National during practice rounds. Millions more around the world will be able to watch when he officially makes his return to golf at the Masters on Thursday.

Woods was put in the next-to-last group for the opening round — his first meaningful shot since his private life unraveled in sordid tales of infidelity five months ago. His 1:42 p.m. tee time fits perfectly into ESPN’s live television coverage.

Joining the world’s No. 1 player will be K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods got that first day at the Masters out of the way. The practice round. The news conference.

And now, time to “try to win this thing.”

Woods’ fellow players are sure ready to move on.

“As the tournament develops and goes through, the tournament will get in front,” Geoff Ogilvy predicted. “If he’s involved, it will be crazy. If not, the tournament will be the biggest thing here. By Sunday, that will be evident.

“Hopefully,” Ogilvy added, “he’s in the competition — and that will make it really good.”

Woods’ return to golf for the first time since a Thanksgiving night crash exposed the sordid details of his personal life passed a major test Monday when he practiced in front of a largely forgiving gallery at Augusta National. Then he reported to the media center for a 35-minute news conference that was lacking in new details but big on charm and humility.

He dodged questions with what smacked of being rehearsed answers, refused to go into details about the therapy he sought or the state of his marriage, except to say his wife won’t be at Augusta National this week. But there was a touch of patience in his voice — and he tried to address every writer by name.

“I need to be a better man going forward than I was before,” he said. “And just because I’ve gone through treatment doesn’t mean it stops. I’m trying as hard as I possibly can each and every day to get my life better and better and stronger. And if I win championships along the way, so be it.”

One thing hasn’t changed.

Woods, a four-time champion who hasn’t hit a shot that mattered since Nov. 15, is not at the Masters simply to make amends.

“I’m going to go out there and try to win this thing,” he said.

It was a solid start in the process of restoring his image. Woods clearly was intent on mingling more with the fans than he did before the scandal. First, he putted a couple of balls to some kids watching alongside the 18th green. Then, a real surprise: He stopped to sign autographs while heading to the practice range.

He had not played to a crowd since winning the Australian Masters in Melbourne, where fans saw him only as golf’s best player with 82 victories, 14 majors and no rival except history.

His world caved in 12 days later with a car accident outside his home that sent him to the hospital with a busted lip that required five stitches, and a shattered image that might take years to repair.

“A lot has happened in my life over the past five months,” said Woods, who provided a few details and denials in the 47 questions he fielded from reporters who occupied all 207 seats in the media center.

Among the revelations:

— He ruptured the Achilles’ tendon in his right leg in December 2008, two months before his return from knee surgery. Woods said he was taking the painkiller Vicodin for that and his left knee.

— He began taking the prescription sleeping pill Ambien after his father died because he was having trouble sleeping.

— He was sent to an Orlando, Fla., hospital after his Nov. 27 accident for a sore neck and a cut lip.

— He denied ever taking human growth hormone, performance-enhancing drugs or “any illegal drug.” He said he sought out Canadian doctor Anthony Galea for “blood spinning” because of his treatment on other athletes.

Galea’s assistant was caught bringing HGH and other substances into the United States last year, and Woods said he will cooperate fully in the investigation.

As for the crowd on the course, the applause was rather muted as Woods approached each green, but there were no boos.

“I’m excited that he’s here,” said Ashley Hawkins, showing off a flag that Woods signed on his way to the practice range. “I’m really rooting for him to win. His personal life is his personal life. I still think he’s a great golfer. That’s all that matters.”

The next little tidbit comes Tuesday, when the tee times reveal who Woods will be playing with in the first two rounds Thursday and Friday.

Regardless, Woods already said he plans to tone down his temper — and his celebrations — out there.

In his last tournament, he flipped his driver to the turf after an errant tee shot, and the club bounced into and over the gallery. Woods retrieved the club without concern or apology.

“I’m actually going to try and obviously not get as hot when I play,” he said. “But then again, when I’m not as hot, I’m not going to be as exuberant, either. I can’t play one without the other, and so I made a conscious decision to try and tone down my negative outbursts. And consequently, I’m sure my positive outbursts will be calmed down, as well.”

He was calm Monday. He had a scraggly goatee — a look he has sported occasionally during his career, but rarely at a major.

Woods walked into his news conference wearing a smile and hugged Ronald Townsend, the first black member at Augusta National.

But he was not comfortable at the start.

He swallowed hard to steady his voice and meant to open his comments by noting he had played his practice round with Fred Couples. But instead he said “Craig” — confusing Couples with Craig Heatley, the Masters media chairman running the press conference.

And as he has done in statements on his Web site, a public apology at PGA Tour headquarters Feb. 19 and a pair of five-minute TV interviews two weeks ago, Woods owned up to his mistakes.

Not everyone was satisfied.

Even as he spoke, adult film star Joslyn James — one of more than a dozen women who claimed to have had an affair with Woods, invited the media to watch the news conference in New York with her and attorney Gloria Allred.

She shook her head disapprovingly several times.

“I think he’s still a big, fat liar,” James said.

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