AUGUSTA, Ga. – Some want to say Tiger Woods is back – back to being happy, back to being comfortable in his own swing, back to a stable love life.
Others want to say nothing's changed, that he's still mostly ego, still putting out bold Nike commercials, still probably the same arrogant guy they enjoyed watching fall the first time around.
For most though, after all these years of watching Tiger's magical rise and this long winter of winless Masters – porn stars and Perkins waitresses aside – there is only one question that has eyes focused again on Augusta National: Can he win? Can he win right now? Can we please get to see that once-in-a-generation talent in full again?
"I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game," Tiger said Tuesday. "I feel that I've improved and I'm far more consistent."
It's a waste of time trying to hope Tiger will be what people want him to be because he never was what people wanted him to be. And even if he was, we wouldn't know it. And since there are too many people wanting too many things, how could he be?
Confused? Everyone always has been.
Eighteen consecutive major tournaments without a Woods victory – not to mention the lessons December 2009 proved that no one really ever knew anything about what he and his personal life were about – should convince everyone that all the psychoanalysis in the world is, while entertaining, pointless.
He's a good guy again. He's still a bad guy. Save the lectures about marital fidelity for Billy Payne.
This is the greatest golfing machine of the generation and perhaps, just perhaps, he's about to return to showing it. He's No. 1 in the world again. He's winning tournaments. His swing is said to be ironed out. His confidence is high.
And that's enough for Augusta to be flooded with golf fans this week desperate for the return of the sports megastar. Prices for coveted Masters badges have soared this week to some of the highest levels since 1997, when Tigermania was arguably at its peak.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a four-day pass to watch the tournament was going for around $12,000 on StubHub.com. It cost $1,250 just to get in and watch practice on Wednesday.
"It's ridiculous," said Glenn Lerhman of StubHub. "It's the Tiger factor. People are buying and not selling. Prices spiked big-time after his last victory and aren't coming down. They want to see him play. Tiger winning again is what is pushing the prices up."
The mood here is all Tiger, all the time. That isn't particularly unusual; it's just ratcheted up to a new level. The tense look on his face in 2010, when he made his return from the tabloid sex scandal and was being lectured by Payne and everyone else, is gone.
The focus instead is on his game. While some are claiming it's improved with his supposedly better relationship with his ex-wife and children, plus new girlfriend Lindsay Vonn, there is no way anyone knows that for sure. The guy was once the poster child for harmonious living. Then the National Enquirer dropped a story, Tiger hit a fire hydrant and Elin smashed his window in with a golf club. No one knew what he was about then, either.
"Well, I think life is all about having a balance and trying to find an equilibrium," he said Tuesday. "And I feel very balanced."
Who knows, maybe he does. Maybe he's telling the truth. The bigger question is who cares? Tiger is forever a contradiction.
At one point Tuesday he said his problem of late was injuries that led to a lack of practice time that affected his overall game.
"I wasn't physically capable of doing it," he said. "I wasn't healthy enough. Couldn't practice, couldn't play and just wasn't able to do any of the sessions that I needed to do to improve. And I was making a swing change."
Just three questions later, he noted what cost him a couple green jackets is a failure to hit putts because the rest of his game was solid.
"I was there ball-striking-wise. … I think I hit it pretty well," he said. "Hit a lot of greens but just didn't make enough putts."
So which was it? It doesn't matter.
Tiger was asked if having children has affected his once singular focus on winning. "No, life is better," he said. "Life is better since I've had kids."
He was asked about the Nike advertisement containing the line "winning fixes everything," that offended some people.
"I've said that since the beginning of my career," he said. "That's an old quote that Nike put out there and people jumped on it, but that's something I've said since I've first turned pro."
He was asked if he's ever won a major with the goatee that he was sporting on Tuesday.
"No, because it takes a long time for this thing to grow, you know."
"Seven years?" the reporter asked back, noting the current Masters drought Tiger is under.
Even Tiger laughed.
So Tiger is balanced. Or so he says. Or Tiger is back hitting the ball well, or maybe he always did that and it was putting that failed him. Or Tiger has an equilibrium and a mind on the precious present, or maybe he's as focused on winning 19 majors like he always has been. "I would like to be able to get to that point," he said.
Whatever. It's when you start wanting more from Tiger than soaring drives and remarkable putts that this relationship breaks bad.
Augusta is full this week, prices skyrocketing, interest soaring, the hype climbing because the feeling is Tiger Woods is about to play some hellacious golf here again, that something majestic and marvelous is about to happen.
After all these Majors without a victory, after all those Sundays without the memory of a final, classic run, after seven years to grow that goatee, that should be enough for everyone.
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