Reuters - Tue, 16 Mar 23:53:00 2010
There is no safer environment for world number one Tiger Woods to return to golf than the US Masters at Augusta National.
Woods, who went into hiding after his scandal broke and then into a rehabilitation clinic for sex addiction, has not played since November 15 and was expected by many to warm up with a US PGA Tour event in March.
But instead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill or the private Tavistock Cup, Woods has opted to dive in at the deep end at the season's first Major.
Those who know Woods suspect the reason is primarily that the restrained and conservative atmosphere at Augusta National in Georgia will reduce the chances of wisecracks from the crowd or intrusive behaviour from the tabloid media.
"If he's going to get some heckling, which everyone assumes that he will, he'll get a lot less of it at Augusta than he will anywhere else," said 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk.
"It seems like it's the smartest choice, the most prudent choice."
The club has an ethos of genteel and polite appreciation for the game rather than the raucous 'fan' culture found at some courses in the US.
Although a spokesman for Augusta told Reuters no special plans had been put in place for the Woods comeback, there is probably little need for heavy security.
A ticket for the first Major championship of the season is tough to find and they are often handed down from generation to generation in wills and occasionally fought over in divorce settlements.
Those fortunate enough to have their names on a long-since closed waiting list can expect to wait decades to get the opportunity to land a coveted badge to gain entry to the Cathedral of Pines.
Buying entry on the open market is an option only for the wealthy: on Tuesday, two four-day passes to the tournament were being bid for on Ebay at $3,528 (£2,315).
It would be a foolhardy fan who risked the wrath of the committee members with any ungentlemanly behaviour.
Woods's close friend, professional golfer Notah Begay III, told the Golf Channel he believed Augusta was the right choice both in terms of environment and his game.
Woods has won the Masters four times.
"Obviously, there are a lot of considerations that he needs to assess based on security and media because of everything that has transpired over the last few months," he said.
"But I think the most important thing we can't forget is that he has to have his game ready and I think Bay Hill might have been too soon. It gives him a couple more weeks to get ready.
"He knows the course as well as anybody and it is probably the best decision for his game and possibly to come back and try and control a little bit the hype."
Palmer, despite missing out on having Woods at his own tournament, also said he could see Augusta's appeal for the world number one.
"Augusta is one place in the world where you can have control and they will control everything from the crowds to the situation that will be facing Tiger and I think if there is a place in the world that you can do that and do it properly, Augusta is that," he said.