Woods’ scandal already old news at Masters

The most noticeable difference between the Tiger Woods who left

and the one who came back is a pair of dark wraparound shades.

Cynics might think Woods donned the sunglasses to keep eye

contact to a minimum. It’s nothing that sinister.

“The pollen is just killing my eyes,” he said. “I’ve been

sneezing and hacking. So trying to keep it out of my eyes the best

I can.”

Apparently, just about every question about how Woods would

regain his footing after a stunning fall from grace five months ago

has been answered. At least inside the gates of a golf course. He

followed up a 68 on Thursday, his best opening round ever at the

Masters, with a tougher-than-it-looked, two-under-par 70 on Friday

and the only thing he was asked about afterward – besides the

sunglasses – was the state of his game.

“How did the course play?”

“Can you take us through your second shot on 17?”

“Do you like your spot on the leaderboard right now?”

“Do you feel like you might start living your more normal

schedule?”

Woods handled every one but the last one with relative ease.

“I would like to, but I don’t know,” he said. “I’m going to

have to evaluate some things after this event.”

His on-course conduct won’t be part of the review. The new

fan-friendly Woods casually handed his glove to a spectator as he

walked off the tee at the third hole, doffed his cap in response to

another standing ovation at the 12th, and good as his word, tamped

down both his celebrations and tantrums the rest of the way around

Augusta National.

The fist-pumps after a pair of birdies dropped at Nos. 13 and 15

were even more muted than those a day earlier. His knees buckled a

little less when he missed another makeable birdie try at No. 16.

And keep in mind that Matt Kuchar, who played with Woods both days,

thought he was already surprisingly low-key on Thursday.

“I read a quote he had about just trying to be more level on

the golf course and there were a few putts yesterday I expected

maybe a little bit bigger reaction,” Kuchar said.

What didn’t surprise Kuchar was the way Woods played.

“I think that after he won the U.S. Open on one leg, we all

realized that he could pretty much do anything. And never would we

really second guess his ability on the golf course. It’s pretty

amazing.”

“I have no idea what he’s been doing the last 144 days, there’s

no telling,” he added. “It was pretty amazing how he could hide

as well as he could, for so long.”

Other than a stint in rehab, the only thing we know for certain

about Woods’ whereabouts since his SUV careened out of control down

the driveway is that he spent a lot of time on the practice range.

He’s been asked several times about how he managed to stay so sharp

without the benefit of even one warm-up tournament, and each time

Woods replied the same way.

“As I said in here yesterday, it’s very similar to what Hogan

went through coming off the accident,” Woods said, referring to

Ben Hogan, but conveniently leaving out the fact that Hogan didn’t

crash his own car.

“Just couldn’t play that much and when you can’t play, you have

to concentrate on your practice. It would have been nice to

actually have a normal schedule and play, but that’s neither here

nor there. I had to make sure that I got everything I possibly

could out of every practice session,” he added.

So far, that time appears well spent. Win or lose, when the

Masters ends Sunday, Woods will have to sit down and map out his

schedule for the rest of the year. It almost certainly will include

the U.S. Open in June at Pebble Beach, where Woods won in 2000 en

route to posting the lowest score ever in relation to par at an

Open. The month after that, the British Open returns to St.

Andrews, where Woods has won twice.

Some people thought the sex scandal that cost Woods his

reputation, some sponsors and fans also would cost him the chance

to pass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

Now they might have to reassess.

On the admittedly slim evidence of just two rounds, his future

looks bright enough that Woods actually might have a reason to wear

shades for something other than pollen.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org