Tiger Woods's golf rehab takes second step at Quail Hollow

Tiger Woods, Wednesday, 2010 Quail Hollow Championship
Mike Ehrmann/SI
Tiger Woods played in the pro-am Wednesday morning.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Tiger Woods hopes his second step back on the PGA Tour is even better than his first.

Woods' golf rehab continues Thursday at the Quail Hollow Championship, three weeks after he ended a five-month hiatus from the game at the Masters. Woods tied for fourth at Augusta National, a remarkable feat given the sex scandal that destroyed the foundations of his old life and made his new one fodder for every tabloid and news magazine.

But the spotlight's glare isn't nearly as bright at Quail Hollow Club, and this time Woods is armed with two-plus weeks of work on what didn't go right at Augusta.

"There were some things I didn't like in my golf swing, so I started to work on that, simplify things a little bit, got everything more fine-tuned," Woods said Wednesday. "And I feel very comfortable."

Woods and Phil Mickelson head one of the year's best fields at Quail Hollow, which has the feel of a major. Everywhere you looked, fans who took off from work and skipped school lined the course during the pro-am that included celebrities like new Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, four-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson and North Carolina football coach Butch Davis.

Mickelson couldn't make it to the end of his round, withdrawing after five holes with an illness. He was treated for dehydration at an on-course medical center, but was still expected to make his first-round tee time at 12:50 p.m.

A big question facing Woods was whether the large, public gallery at Quail Hollow might lead to Tiger catcalls and shenanigans that Augusta National took pains to prevent.

Security is beefed up here, too. But on Wednesday, Woods was treated as respectfully as he was by the Masters crowd, applauded at just about every fairway and green.

"Tiger, win this tournament," came a shout as Woods walked down the 16th fairway. Woods acknowledged the good wishes with a wave.

Woods again showed off his softened persona, smiling to sign a few autographs between the 16th and 17th holes.

"As far as the fans here over the years, they've been great," Woods said after the round. "There's no reason why that shouldn't continue."

There's also no reason to think - as long as he recuperates - that Quail Hollow crowds won't continue to shower Mickelson with cheers as golf's deserving good guy.

How could you not be drawn into the tale? Mickelson's third Masters win followed a year of turmoil during which both his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer.

"For me, personally, it's probably the most important win that I've had," Mickelson said.

The aw' shucks feel continued the morning after the Masters win, Mickelson complete with green jacket in the drivethru at Krispy Kreme buying glazed doughnuts for his three children.

"It was a little chilly, so I threw on a jacket," Mickelson joked.

The Masters winner spent his first week mostly goofing around with his kids, attending school events and taking in a San Diego Padres game.

The past five or six days, Mickelson says, he's worked to bring his game back to Augusta level.

"So I certainly have high expectations this week and next" for The Players Championship, Mickelson said.

Woods has those same expectations - and he feels he's closer to his winning form than a few weeks ago.

He was angered about his play when the Masters ended - remember that greenside TV interview? - but has come to appreciate what he accomplished over the past few weeks.

"Given a little time to reflect on it, it was an incredible week," Woods said. "I think it went as well as it could have possibly gone."

Not everything's easier, Woods acknowledged. He was criticized by some for recently attending a Nickelback concert. And he can't go anywhere outside his house without cameras there to show his actions to the world.

"Helicopters, here and there, people driving by," he said. "Paparazzi camping out in front of the gates. That hasn't changed."

Instead, he'll measure his comeback by the less frenzied atmosphere he faces and his improving golf swing, both of which give him hope that success is not far off.

"I have to say this feels a heck of a lot more normal than the Masters did," Woods said.

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