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Belch: Tiger remains an excellent golfer

If you have been reading my columns for a while, you will know that I cannot pass up this opportunity to write about one of my favorite athletes, Tiger Woods.

Yes, he is still one of my favorite athletes. I do not condone his actions and his behavior in his personal life. But I still respect what he does on the golf course and the excellence of his career. What he does on the course is separate from what he does off the course. Yes, his image has been permanently tarnished, and perhaps he is not the role model that he once was. But he is allowed to go back to his job. And yesterday he did.

His first tee shot was typical Tiger. The twirl of the club and the picking up of the tee early signified his ball went right down the middle. I wonder if he was nervous. I’m sure he walked down that first fairway and let out a huge exhale, a physical and maybe even a mental one.a

And after his first 18 holes, the man is where he always was before he left the game: in contention. Tiger shot four-under and is two shots back of the leader, Fred Couples. Anyone who knows “vintage Tiger” should know that this is about as good of a start as he could have wanted.

Some are saying that this weekend could be the biggest media event of the last 10 years, next to Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. The scandal that made it onto the front cover of the New York Post more times than September 11 (that’s a record) comes full circle now that Tiger has returned to the course. Golf fans will surely watch him. Anyone who was a minor fan before all this will watch him. People who followed the headlines will probably watch him—and mark that a near inevitability for everyone if he is still in contention on Sunday.

In terms of golf, it was pretty much nothing new for a tournament featuring Tiger Woods. Everything was back to normal. He got a spirited welcome. He got huge followings and huge cheers. The fans gave him a standing ovation on the driving range and were five-deep on the practice green. They were 70-deep on the first tee and all the way down the first fairway. While Augusta is known for its love for golf and golfers no matter who is playing, the fans gravitated to Tiger—just like the old days.

It was all about wanting Woods to do well. And I think that’s how it should be. He has apologized extensively and taken full responsibility. No matter how people feel about him personally, they should at the very least accept the fact that he wants to be a better person, husband, father and ambassador for the game of golf. It may be hard to accept the fact that he is returning to golf (some say it is way too soon), but the fans yesterday welcomed him back into the game and will continue to for the next three days.

ESPN milked every single moment, as everyone and everything milked every moment of the past five months of news and information. They must have known how many people were going to tune in to his first tee shot yesterday—the network aired everything, from his practice putting and his practice hitting to the entire six or seven minutes leading up to his first shot.

Some players don’t even get one shot on TV all day.

Commentators Scott Van Pelt and Andy North proceeded to explain to everyone what Tiger was doing when he was putting on the practice green, like it was some infomercial giving a golf clinic. They were explaining everything he was doing from putting to walking around to breathing. It was kind of ridiculous if you ask me, but not ridiculous at all after the amount of coverage the man and his story has gotten around the world over the past five months.

“At a major we are usually most interested in the final shot on Sunday,” Van Pelt said. “But this time we are most interested in the first shot on Thursday.”

I want Tiger to win. I think it would be incredible. I would love to see the headlines that emerge all over the place. I would love to see the air clear just a bit for him. I would love for people to move on a bit, not forgetting but realizing that his mistake is (hopefully) over and done with. What he did was wrong and he is deserving of all the scrutiny and extraneous coverage. But to return like this and win the most prestigious golf tournament of the year would just be spectacular.

With Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson at the top of the leaderboard after day one, this has the makings of a great tournament. How interesting would it be if the big names and Tiger charged into the weekend in the lead? Millions of people would tune in to this one, to see if Tiger can do it. It sure would be a nice change to see his name associated with something positive, as it has been for so many years leading up to now.

Tiger is back, the leaderboard is stacked and the Masters is off the ground running. There’s almost no better story.

Danny Belch probably doesn’t realize that he’s really just adding to the media frenzy. Complain about hearing too much of Tiger at [email protected]

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