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Yes, Tiger Woods is coming back to Augusta, and we've said for quite some time here about how good it sets up for Tiger -- familiar course, friendly gallery, protective club, respectful media. All true.
But what about whether it's good for the game of golf in general and Augusta in particular?
Now, I'm not a member of Augusta National, and chances are neither are you. So we're both equally qualified to speculate on how news of Tiger's return is being received in Butler Cabin right about now. But I can tell you this -- if there's celebration, I'm betting it's tepid at best.
Look, I'm not going to lie to you. I can't wait for Tiger to return. I'd be watching the Masters even if it wasn't my job, and I'm as interested as anyone in seeing what Tiger does. (I still think he'll break Jack Nicklaus' major record eventually.) But like every other move he's made in this entire scandal, the Masters return is based in short-sighted self-interest, with little concern for either the immediate or long-term effects on those around him.
Bear in mind, Augusta National is a private club fundamentally concerned with its own needs, not the needs of fans, media or even the golfers who play its hallowed holes. It's turned down millions in sponsor money by running commercial-free telecasts; it's invited and fought back lawsuits over its allegedly discriminatory membership policies. It has no need to be, or interest in being, the focus of a media scrum.
And yet that's exactly what Tiger Woods will be doing to Augusta in just a few weeks. Here's what Tiger is setting up Augusta for:
• An armada of tabloid journalists scouring the city of Augusta, looking for any kind of inside dirt on what goes on inside the clubhouse.
• Helicopters buzzing the course looking to get a shot of Tiger coming out the back door of the clubhouse.
• Scalpers commanding record highs for badges -- and certain people buying those badges who don't much care if they get kicked out or not. They may not reach the levels of the Australian Open fans there at right, but you can bet there will be a bit less decorum at this year's Masters than in years past.
• Somebody getting money from an online casino or tabloid site for being the first to scream out "Get in the hole!" (And, as @claytravis has noted, the inevitable followup: "That's what she said!")
• An entire week of Tiger-focused coverage, drowning out every other story in what is usually a symphony of dissonant yet unified tales blending to -- aw, hell, sorry, went a little overboard there. The Masters does that to you.
Plus, let's not discount the effect the Tiger circus is going to have on Woods' fellow players. Check out this little tidbit from CBS's Steve Elling:
The animosity in certain pockets of fandom is matched in certain factions of players. Two weeks ago on the driving range at the Honda Classic, a parade of players marched past a Golf Channel analyst and figuratively patted him on the back, offering congratulations for the scathing comments he had offered about Woods' remarks during his statement reading last month. One was a top 10 player, too.
A player with Orlando ties was asked about whether he had perhaps seen Woods practicing on the range and preparing to make a comeback, said that he hadn't, then turned and offered an unsolicited reaction.
"You want to know what I really think?" he said. "I could give a f---."
Now, the immediate knee-jerk reply is, "Hell with 'em. Augusta and those players should be grateful to Tiger." Wrong, wrong, wrong. Yes, Tiger has benefited the game more than any player since Arnie and Jack, and yes, he's put more money in every golfer's pocket as a result of increased purses.
But at some point, enough is enough. Woods took heat for scheduling his February apology right in the middle of the tournament sponsored by Accenture, the first company to drop him. And making his return at Augusta indicates either complete tone-deafness to the mania that will surround him -- which, given his advisors, is always a possibility -- or a complete disregard and disrespect of his fellow players and the game.
Tiger shouldn't have made Augusta his first stop back. But he did, and so here we are. Here's what Tiger ought to do to prove he actually respects the institution of golf. He needs to make a 180-degree turn on his attitude. He should sign autograph after autograph. He should pose for pictures with anybody who wants one. He should make himself available to the Masters press for extensive interviews. He should foot the bill for all the extra security that's going to be necessary because of him.
It's not too late for Tiger to wake up and realize that the days of universal love are over, that for every fan still fawning over him, there are 10 more who have walked away in disgust or disappointment. But is it going to happen? Take a wild guess.
Golf owes Tiger an enormous debt. But Tiger owes golf everything. He and the people advising him would do well to keep that in mind.