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Tiger Woods: King of the recovery shot

Tiger can resume his golfing career, but he can’t resume the behaviors that seemed so integral to his success.

Tiger Woods speaks at his news conference following his practice round for the 2010 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 5, 2010. (Harry How/Pool/Reuters)

BOSTON — Tiger Woods’ golf game has so many virtues that it is difficult to single one out. But if fans were forced to choose their favorite, I have no doubt it would be Tiger’s uncanny ability to hit recovery shots. Time and again, he finds himself in an impossible situation on the golf course and not only finds a way out of trouble, but most often winds up smelling sweet.

It is not easy to replicate that kind of success in life, but Tiger is about to try. On golf‘s greatest stage, the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, he will not only resume his golfing career, but begin the painful process of trying to transform himself from the anti-hero of a sordid soap opera back into something that begins to approach his former elevated stature in the sports world.

Had he asked me — rather than Ari Fleischer, who brought such credibility to President George W. Bush’s White House during the invasion of Iraq — I would have counseled him to bypass the Masters and begin his comeback later. (In golfing terms, the choice of Fleischer as public relations advisor proved to be a double bogey and he was quickly shunted aside.) With the Masters so central to his golfing legacy and his pursuit of the record for major championship wins so central to his golfing mission, Tiger — by skipping it — would have punished himself in a way that gave far more credence to his public expressions of regret and apology.

Fortunately for us fans, credibility seems to be something of an afterthought here. (Tiger’s assertion that none of his inner circle were aware of his extramarital sexual escapades was about as convincing as those drug cheats who insist they succumbed to temptation just that once.) So even in a year that boasts the riches of an Olympics and soccer’s World Cup, Tiger’s tournament this week could be the most compelling sports story of the year. The Masters, steeped in antiquated and arcane traditions, has bowed to this decidedly modern moment by allowing ESPN to broadcast Woods’ first tee shot live before blacking out the opening round until a brief late-afternoon slot.

Peruse a betting site like and you can get down on everything from whether Tiger will win the tournament to whether his wife will be captured on camera to whether he will be subjected to heckling. I certainly hope he won’t be booed or heckled. There’s no need for a public pillorying. But I also hope he won’t be greeted with a thunderous ovation, suggesting undue sympathy for a man who admits to being the victimizer and who brought all his myriad problems onto himself. (I make an exception for anyone who also plans to give Jesse James a rousing cheer the first time he makes a public appearance.)