Tiger Congenial, if Guarded in Return to Augusta

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Tiger Woods was back in front of a podium Monday afternoon, but unlike his scripted February mea culpa, the world’s most-famous athlete answered reporters’ questions and flashed the first smile the public had seen from the golfer since he effectively went into hiding last year.”Coming into today, I didn’t know what to expect,” Woods said after his Monday practice round at Augusta National, site of the Masters tournament. “The gallery’s couldn’t be nicer. It was just incredible, the encouragement that I got. It blew me away.”

Reporters weren’t quite as cordial as the fans, though Woods was measured and congenial and answered every question. After issuing a few off the cuff remarks in which he again apologized for his past actions and expressed excitement about the coming tournament, the first question was why he didn’t cooperate with the police following his accident (”I did everything to the letter of the law,” Woods said).

Woods was his most curt when a reporter asked if his wife Elin would be joining him in Augusta for the tournament. The second part of the question was if his wife wouldn’t be in attendance.  Woods said his wife would not be at Augusta.  The follow-up touched on whether he should have returned to the game so soon.  “I’m excited to play this week,” was all Woods would respond.

One reporter referenced Woods’ February pledge to be more respectful towards the game upon his return.

“I made a conscious decision to try and tone down my negative outbursts,” Woods said. He also said he would try to be more appreciative of his fans. “I haven’t done that in the past few years and that was wrong of me.”

Woods denied using performance enhancing drugs, saying he has never used any illegal drugs. Woods said he had received treatment from Dr. Anthony Galea, who has been arrested on suspicion of providing athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Woods said he received plasma replacement therapy from Galea.

While reporters did not ask specifically about details of his Nov. 27 car accident, questions about the fallout abounded. Woods talked about stripping away the rationalizations and lies about his infidelities while in rehab but declined to answer a reporter’s question as to what he was in rehab for. “That’s personal, thanks,” he said.

Woods said he had gained perspective in rehab and wanted to focus on becoming a better man and said if he won more golf tournaments in the course of getting his life back on track, “so be it.”

But Woods was his most animated when talking about his return to the game. When asked what his expectations were for the Masters, he gave a glimpse of the old Tiger. “Nothing has changed,” he said. “I’m going to go out and try to win this thing.”

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