Tiger Woods at the Masters is too much, too soon

Tiger Woods, 2009 Masters
Simon Bruty/SI
Tiger Woods always draws a crowd at Augusta National. Can tournament organizers keep the madness outside the gates?

As a four-time champion, Tiger Woods has every right to resume his career at the Masters this April, but I wish he wouldn't.

I'm not an Augusta National apologist. The club ought to admit women as members, and its history on race relations makes the Boston Red Sox look progressive. However, club members sure know how to host a golf tournament. The Masters is sports at its best: a wonderfully intimate venue (in Amen Corner the luckiest fans in sports can watch the 11th green, all of 12 and the 13th tee box at the same time), cool traditions (the green jacket, the champions dinner, the Augusta roars, etc.) and an almost mythical history (Tiger in 1997, Jack in '86, Arnie in '58, Sarazen in... ). The Masters is timeless, in the most positive way. Everything Jim Nantz says about it is true.

The Tiger Woods saga, as it's unfolded since his fateful Thanksgiving night car wreck, is sports at its worst: a narcissist athlete with an alarming sense of entitlement; a craven, parasitic media; and a miasma of slime covering everyone involved. The Woods saga is timely, in the most negative way. When the Masters Tournament meets the Woods saga, I'm scared to find out which one is going to win.

Without question, Woods at Augusta will be must-see TV, but it comes with strings attached. For every hour of the tournament on television, showing the world's best player against those snow-white bunkers and pink-and-violet azaleas, we'll get another 20 hours of commentary on MSESPNBCNNBS, thousands of tweets, a dozen New York Post covers and maybe another Howard Stern beauty pageant. I'm as bad an offender as anybody. I've already set the DVR for the Tiger Woods South Park, and I'll be talking and writing about Woods right up until his Thursday tee time. Really, how can you not talk about him? Instead of easing himself back into public life and competitive golf, the biggest star in the biggest story is returning to the game at the biggest tournament. Say what you want about Woods, but he hasn't lost his feel for the dramatic.

What's going to happen to the Masters when the Tiger circus comes to town? Get ready for souped-up security lines, paparazzi stakeouts at all entrances to the club (the Washington Road Starbucks is going to love this), and the ultimate "Where's Waldo?" as everybody tries to figure out where Woods is staying. Remember how John Daly selling T-shirts outside his trailer across the street from the club was a sideshow? Take that and multiply it by 5,000 and you'll get a sense of what the atmosphere will be like outside the tournament.

A lot of people are saying that the Masters is a good tournament for Woods to return because the club won't allow tabloid media to cover the event. True, Augusta National has already issued media credentials for the tournament and those reporters will act like professionals. They will pepper Woods with questions if he does hold one of his Nixonian press conference, but they will respect the event and its traditions.

However, as Scott Adamson of The Independent Mail in South Carolina pointed out, nothing can stop TMZ or the National Enquirer from purchasing a ticket and ambushing Woods with questions on a tee box. If a publication can send its reporters to Australia to follow Rachel Uchitel up a hotel elevator, getting through the gates of Augusta National won't be a problem. Augusta's security guards will be on alert for over-aggressive media and fans, which could mitigate those issues, but could also lead to ugly situations in the wrong circumstances.

My friend just told me to stop worrying. The Tiger circus will be outside, in the parking lots and the hotel lobbies. Inside the gates the Masters will still be the Masters, he said. It always is.

I hope he's right because Woods isn't the only one who needs a break from this circus. We all do.

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