Augusta, Georgia (CNN) — Tiger Woods returns to golf Monday at the Masters, ending a self-imposed exile stemming from a November car accident outside his home and his subsequent admission of extramarital affairs amid a media frenzy.
Woods is set to participate in a news conference — his first since the scandal broke — at 2 p.m. ET after practicing in the morning at the Augusta National Golf Club.
While he delivered a carefully managed statement in February to a small, handpicked crowd and has given two one-on-one interviews, the news conference will be Woods’ first in months, and the interest surrounding it has reached nearly presidential proportions.
Woods’ public woes began with an early-morning crash November 27 outside his Orlando, Florida-area home when he suffered minor injuries after striking a fire hydrant and tree with his Cadillac sport utility vehicle.
Woods — one of golf’s biggest names who had always maintained a squeaky-clean image — was not required to talk to police about the wreck and declined to talk with investigators on several occasions. Eventually, he was cited for careless driving.
The wreck occurred days after the tabloid National Enquirer alleged Woods was having an affair with a New York nightclub hostess. The woman has denied the allegation, but several others have come forward to claim that they had sexual relationships with the fiercely private Woods, who is married to former model Elin Nordegren. The couple have two children.
Woods’ alleged mistresses have released voice mails and text messages they claim are from the golf champion.
In February, Woods said he was in inpatient therapy for 45 days from the end of December for “issues,” which he did not explain, and acknowledged multiple extramarital affairs.
The controversy prompted several major sponsors to suspend or drop their relationships with Woods, who also apologized to his business partners for his behavior.
More recently, Woods’ kindergarten teacher has demanded an apology from him for allegations that she ignored a racial attack on 5-year-old Woods at an Anaheim, California, school.
Maureen Decker, now retired, said she wants a “private and public apology to put my mind at ease and set the record straight.”
“The mental challenge that is facing Tiger Woods as he returns to Augusta National and then afterwards at other PGA Tour events, we can assume, later on in the 2010 season, is probably something that no other golfer has ever faced before,” said David Dusek, deputy editor of Golf.com.
However, Woods’ choosing to return to the Masters may be a strategic move as the organizers of the tournament have traditionally kept a tight rein on the media and spectators. Woods, a four-time Masters champion, can expect to be shielded and protected to a certain degree.
“This makes sense,” said Chris Verdery, a golf pro at the River Golf Club in the adjacent town of North Augusta, South Carolina. “People really love him here in Augusta. He’s been wonderful for the Masters, the city of Augusta, and everybody is excited to have him back.”
Woods hopes to claim his 15th victory in a major tournament at the Masters, which tees off Thursday.
His caddie, Steve Williams, has said Woods would not be returning to the game unless he felt he could win. Some leading bookmakers have him as the favorite to prevail.
But Dusek said, “I think it is a little bit much to sort of assume that he is just simply going to walk on, after really not having any competitive play for the better part of four months, walk into the season and be able to physically dominate the way that we assume Tiger Woods always does.
“I would look for him to improve and get better as the season goes on. I would not be surprised if he wins golf tournaments in 2010, but I do not think he can come out and win the Masters right away.”
And the focus — at least for the media — will be on the spectacle rather than the sport.
“TMZ, Entertainment Weekly and People magazine, along with ‘Extra,’ are … typical calls I don’t get, come Masters week,” said Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
Still, Woods’ devoted fans are looking forward to seeing him play once more.
“I love his golf, and that’s what we’re here for, that’s what I like to see, and I really don’t care about his personal life,” said Masters ticket holder Dick Benck.
Others said they are sympathetic to what the golf icon has been through.
“That kind of humiliation is very hurtful, and I’m sure he wakes up and wonders, ‘What the hell was I doing?’ ” said another ticket holder, Michael O’Rourke.
Article courtesy of: cnn.com