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Tiger Woods to return to golf at the Masters

March 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tiger Woods is back in the game. After months of scandalous headlines followed by a globally-watched apology, Woods announced Tuesday his return to golf.Woods said he will return next month at the Masters, ending a more than four-month hiatus brought on by a sex scandal that shattered his image as the gold standard in sports.

He's reportedly been practicing seriously for a couple weeks.

"The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta," Woods said in a statement.

"The major championships have always been a special focus in my career, and as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it's been a while since I last played," he said.

The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia begins April 8.

Woods has not competed since Nov. 15 when he won the Australian Masters for his 82nd victory worldwide. In the early hours of Nov. 27, he crashed his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home, setting off shocking revelations that he had been cheating on his wife, Elin Nordegren, with multiple women.

The accident came just two days after a National Enquirer story claimed Woods was having an extramarital affair with a New York nightclub manager. In the days and weeks to follow, several more women came forward alleging to have had relationships with Woods.

The world's No. 1 player eventually confessed to infidelity and said Dec. 11 he would take an "indefinite break" from golf. Woods spoke publicly for the first time on Feb. 19 at TPC Sawgrass, where he apologized to his wife and his family and said he was undergoing therapy, presumably for sex addiction.

"I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment. Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life," Woods said in his statement Tuesday.

Over the weekend, a photographer captured the first photos of Woods and his wife Elin together since the scandal began.

Woods burst on the scene at Augusta National in 1997, becoming the youngest player ever to win a green jacket at age 21 and setting a tournament scoring record with a 12-shot victory.

He's a four-time Masters champion, although he has not won at Augusta National since 2005, his longest drought there.

In some respects, the Masters makes sense for Woods to return as it's the most tightly controlled major. Media credentials are limited regardless of who's playing or what's in the news, and the tournament makes the final decision on every reporter who wants access, which could help Woods avoid questions about his marriage and personal life.

"Augusta is one place in the world that you can really have control and they will control everything, from the crowds to the situation that will be facing Tiger," said PGA legend Arnold Palmer. "And I think if there is a place in the world that you can do that and do it properly, Augusta will do that."

"The least amount of news media that will bother him the most. Then he also has a crowd that will back him, you know, he won't hear all the heckles," said golf pro Jeff Barber. "I can't wait for the British Open to be honest, that will be more entertaining because they're a lot more vocal."

However, many golf experts don't feel playing the Masters as his first event is a good idea. And although the tournament will be tightly controlled, away from the golf course could be another story when he leaves the grounds to retire for the evening.

"He has some many more things that will be swirling around him than just the golf aspect of it, so how he handles all that will I think determine how he plays," said Andy North, ESPN golf analyst. "He's so strong emotionally and mentally, we've seen that in the past. Will this be a totally different thing that he hasn't been able to deal with?"

Woods has already lost a few endorsement deals. His return to golf means he will have to face questions from reporters and possible heckling from the fans. Just a few days ago, Woods hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleisher to be his PR consultant.

Full text of Tiger Woods' statement:

"The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta.

The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it's been a while since I last played.

I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment. Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life.

When I finally got into a position to think about competitive golf again, it became apparent to me that the Masters would be the earliest I could play. I called both Joe Lewis and Arnold Palmer and expressed my regrets for not attending the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I again want to thank them both for their support and their understanding. Those are fantastic tournaments and I look forward to competing in them again.

I would also like to thank the Augusta National members and staff for their support. I have deep appreciation for everything that they do to create a wonderful event for the benefit of the game."

In a SurveyUSA poll taken Tuesday, 500 adults were asked:

Tiger Woods will return to professional golf next month at the Masters Tournament. Do you think he is returning too soon? Do you think he should have returned earlier? Or do you think his timing is about right?

17% Too Soon
23% Returned Earlier
49% Timing About Right
11% Not Sure

The poll has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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