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Friday, April 30, 2010

Tiger set to take game to public tournament

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Tiger Woods entered the room with little fanfare, and without the constant clicking of camera shutters.

News photo
Brave new world: Tiger Woods hits a tee shot during the pro-am at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday. AP PHOTO

His press conference lasted only 16 minutes. The PGA Tour required an admission ticket for the media, although that wasn't necessary. There were 76 seats in the interview room, and 24 of them were empty.

On the golf course, Woods received warm applause when he was introduced on the first tee. The loudest cheer came at the end of his pro-am round Wednesday at Quail Hollow when he knocked in a 25-foot birdie putt before thousands of fans soaking up warm sunshine.

"I have to say, this feels a heck of a lot more normal than the Masters did," Woods said.

The Quail Hollow Championship is another step toward Woods trying to get back to normal, at least with his golf.

Everything about this tournament was going to be different from Augusta National, where the world's No. 1 player made his celebrated return to competition after five months of fallout from his extramarital affairs. Quail Hollow doesn't have the magnitude of the stage, the size of the gallery or the level of media interest.

Even so, this is the first PGA Tour event Woods is playing where tickets were sold to the general public. The behavior was not much different from three weeks ago at the Masters.

"I'll tell you what, the people here have always been very gracious, very excited about this event," Woods said. "These fans here really get into the event, and again, with a great field like this, I think it'll be another great week."

He caught a couple of jeers upon leaving the 18th green when he walked past fans wanting his autograph, but it was a claustrophobic walkway toward the clubhouse, and Woods stopped about 30 yards away and signed for 20 minutes.

He went out of his way to make eye contact with the fans, as he did at the Masters. Woods even posed for a picture with a kindergarten student on his way to the second tee.

Perhaps that will change when the tournament begins on a world-class course with another strong field that includes four of the top five players in the world ranking. Phil Mickelson is making his first start since winning the Masters, although his week got off to a rough start when he withdrew from the pro-am with a stomach illness.

Woods is to start Thursday morning with Stewart Cink and Angel Cabrera, and he will play Friday afternoon when the gallery typically is at its most vocal. If there are fans wanting to heckle him, that might be the time.

"Whether they do or not, it's happened before, and it happened before any of this ever happened," Woods said. "I've dealt with that before. But as far as the fans here over the years, they've been great. There's no reason why that shouldn't continue."

One change Woods wants to see is with his golf.

He sounded bitter in his interview with CBS Sports after his final round at the Masters, more angry at a missed opportunity than pleased with a tie for fourth having not played a tournament in five months.



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