Fans say they're set to welcome Woods back
MIAMI SHORES, Fla. (AP) Jose Ramos was in line at the first tee when the conversation turned to Tiger Woods and his plan to return at the Masters.
He found that intriguing.
Then the talk shifted to the sex scandal that has dogged the world's best player for months, and Ramos lost all interest.
"I honestly think this: Golf fans, they don't care about that anymore," the 28-year-old Ramos said, waiting for his turn to start at Greynolds Park. "Let's see him play. Leave the other stuff alone, man. Lay off."
If there was one thing most recreational players on the ranges and courses of South Florida could agree on Tuesday, it was that they just want to see Woods play again and have talk finally end of extramarital affairs and rehab stints that have surrounded the 14-time major champion since November.
Some like him, some don't, and others like him less now than they did before Nov. 27. That's when he fled his house in the middle of the night and ran his Cadillac SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree.
But just about all those who agreed to discuss Woods on Tuesday said they'll be watching his every move at Augusta National.
Welcome back, Tiger.
"I wouldn't say I'm a Tiger guy, per se, but I've always admired his golf skills and he's probably going to end up being the greatest golfer who ever lived and played," said Daniel Manichello, who was hitting on the range at Miami Shores Country Club. "The stuff that's gone on, that's between him and his family. That's where it should be kept."
Manichello was going to watch the Masters, anyway. He's a year-round follower of golf, someone who drives around listening to golf news on his satellite radio, which is how he learned of Tuesday's news before hitting a bucket of drives.
Still, Woods' return means he'll watch this year's Masters even more closely.
"Makes it more compelling for television and for fans," Manichello said. "If he plays up to his abilities, the guy's incredible. The shots that he pulls off and stuff like that, it makes it more entertaining. And this year and last year when he was out with the injury, nobody's really stepped up into the spotlight."
Sue Ferguson-Pagan, a Scottish vacationer and one of the few women who were willing to speak with The Associated Press about Woods on Tuesday, was puzzled on why the Woods saga has attracted so much attention. A former reporter, Ferguson-Pagan said she thought the entire episode has been media driven.
"He's a superb golfer and I'm just sorry that he's been so publicly exposed for his failings," Ferguson-Pagan said, slinging her bag over her shoulder for an afternoon round. "Just because he's a superhuman golfer doesn't mean to say that he's going to be superhuman in other areas. Leave him alone."
It's unclear what effect Woods' latest absence has had on the game, because he actually didn't miss many tournaments in which he would have played. Doral, though, was one of those tournaments.
When Woods teed off on the Blue Monster in 2009, the gallery stretched nearly 300 yards up the course. While crowds were again sizable at Doral for the weekend rounds of the CA Championship this year - especially following Phil Mickelson, Camilo Villegas and 2010 winner Ernie Els - it was nothing like what greeted Woods a year ago.
"It was kind of empty," Alfredo Behar said. "The security was a lot less beefed up, I'll tell you that much."
Behar, 32, isn't a Woods fan. He roots for Mickelson, mostly. And Ramos, his friend, isn't much of a Woods fan, either.
"He always acted like he was better than you," Ramos said.
They both think they'll see a slightly different Woods when he returns.
"Tiger's a little arrogant, I think," Behar said. "He can't win every tournament. It's impossible to win every tournament. I would have loved to see his comeback at Doral. He would have been all right in Miami. Miami's a very liberal town. And, as a matter of fact, some people would tell you they like him better now."