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Woods pressures make for epic Masters
In this April 8, 2009, file photo, Tiger Woods smiles during his practice round for the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. - photo by Associated Press

If Tiger Woods slips on his effectively grass-stained jacket for a fifth time next Sunday, what happens next? Do we cheer wildly in utter jubilation, waving patriotic flags as Argentineans did when Angel Cabrera captured the 2009 Masters title? Or do we politely applaud with hesitation, keeping the game’s now publicly-flawed greatest player at the emotional distance he’s always preferred from us?

With the entire Masters week ahead, it’s hard for me to imagine getting to that climatic scene, and quite honestly, I’m not ready to read the final chapter of jackets and trophies. As Paul Harvey might say, it’s “the rest of the story” that’s just too good.

The first hurdle for Woods occurs Monday at 2 p.m., where I’ll be in attendance as Tiger answers questions at a press conference for the first time since his sex scandal broke more than four months ago. Last time he sat in front of hoards of media, he was private and impenetrable, known only for his lucrative product endorsements and legendary golf heroics with 14 major titles.

Now, his personal life has a privacy level rivaling Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, his sponsors have folded faster than former final-round playing partners, and he’s as well known for his number of mistresses (16 and counting, if you’re keeping track) as majors. Even at rules stringent Augusta National, Woods will likely face his toughest questions to date. His responses will be magnified and scrutinized by media outlets worldwide.

That’s pressure, and that’s three days before Tiger tees off against the game’s greatest players on golf’s premier stage.

His success at Augusta is well-documented, from his 12-stroke thrashing of the field as a 21-year-old in ’97, to completing the Tiger Slam in ’01, repeating in ’02, and making the miraculous chip to claim his fourth green jacket in ’05. But this is different. Now, Tiger’s fortress of invincibility has vanished, and he must harness his inner turmoil and show the mental focus to compete with golf’s elite.

My plan is to walk all 72 of Augusta’s majestic holes with Tiger, scribbling as fast as possible the happenings on the course and rumblings behind the ropes. The galleries are destined to be legendary, with thousands of patrons jostling to catch a peak of, for at least four days, the planet’s most popular man.

I don’t know what to expect. When this Tiger-centric Masters is over, I’m not sure what we’ll think of Woods. The only thing I do know is that we’ll all be watching, and if he wins, we’ll collectively exhale.

Get ready for an epically interesting week.

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