The day before Masters week begins, ESPN.com's Bob Harig and Jason Sobel ventured around the grounds at Augusta National to see who was playing, who was practicing and whether a certain No. 1 ranked player showed up.
Well, Tiger Woods was in attendance Sunday, and our scribes discuss what they saw in their e-mail chat, Alternate Shot.
Well, let's not bury the lead: On the first day that reporters are allowed access onto the grounds here at Augusta National Golf Club, Tiger Woods reached the new, multimillion-dollar driving range at exactly 1:39 p.m, flanked by instructor Hank Haney. He exchanged pleasantries with a few other players and caddies, stopping to chat with Paul Casey for about five minutes while waiting for Steve Williams -- who had arrived about a half hour earlier -- to emerge from the caddyshack with his golf bag, an all-black model emblazoned with the logo from Woods' Nike product line.
For those scoring at home who care about such things, Woods was decked out in a white hat, lavender shirt, khaki pants, white spikes and that new Buddhism bracelet while also wearing wraparound shades to protect his eyes from the massive amount of pollen that was hovering in the area.
This is what it has come to, obviously. We're making a big deal out of a guy showing up to play golf. But it's not just some guy, and it's not just some course. Tiger has been here at Augusta National in recent weeks, but I'm guessing that the small crowd that gathered on the driving range to watch him warm up was bigger than any he's seen since Nov. 15 in Australia.
And let's face it, there is a huge curiosity factor surrounding his return. And so it stands to reason that we might be a bit interested to know what transpired.
Believe me, I know how ridiculous it sounds to be breaking down a golfer's outfit, demeanor and practice session, but you know what they say about inquiring minds.
I can report that Woods' first shot of this particular session was about a 60-yard pitch that fell short of the green area on the range and wound up in the bunker. From there, his swing looked very much like that of Tiger Woods. He hit 30 range balls and looked like his old self, hitting mostly high wedge shots and piercing fades with his 3-wood, before hitting the final four with his new Nike driver.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the quick warm-up was that there was nothing noteworthy at all other than the fact that three spots to his left -- sandwiching fellow pros Brian Gay and Mike Weir -- was entertainer George Lopez, hitting balls while wearing a green golf glove.
There is some irony there, of course, as Mr. Lopez was relentless when it came to Tiger on his late-night TV show. But this is about the golf, so we've all been sort of wondering what the reaction might be like from fellow pros upon seeing Tiger for the first time. In that regard, at least, it appears to be business as usual.
That's true. After speaking with Casey before his warm-up session, the next player Woods encountered was his buddy Jim Furyk on the putting green. Furyk welcomed his former Ryder Cup partner with a friendly bro hug and chatted him up for a few minutes.
From there, Tiger rapped 14 putts, then hopped on a cart with Haney and Williams toward the course. While waiting for past champion Ben Crenshaw to tee off No. 1, he hit six more putts on the practice green behind the clubhouse before seeing his mentor, Mark O'Meara, who was coming off the ninth hole. It was apparently the first time since the scandal broke that the two men had seen each other, because O'Meara greeted Woods with a huge embrace, slapping his back a few times. We shouldn't have expected anything different.
It seems almost routine, which is always the beauty of the day before Masters week truly begins. You get the sense that Augusta National looks like this on spring days when the club is open. A few people milling around, a few people on the course.
The difference is the star power that is here. Tom Watson was on the course while Jim Furyk was on the driving range. Nick Faldo, the three-time Masters champion who is not competing, warmed up on the range and headed to the back nine. Wisconsin buddies Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker ate lunch in the grill room. The pace was almost leisurely. A far difference from what Monday will be like around here.
When Woods teed off the 10th hole with O'Meara and a guest, hitting an ultrahigh 3-wood down the right side before throwing down a second one and drawing it around the trees, there were approximately two dozen observers in attendance. Because the media isn't allowed to go any farther onto the course on Sunday, the ensuing round contained his final moments of serenity on the golf course for the entire week.
On Monday, he will be trailed by thousands of spectators here at Augusta should he tee it up in a practice round. Then he will endure what is likely to be the most uncomfortable news conference of his career, with a multitude of reporters asking him questions for the first time since his personal scandal was uncovered. There will be nothing off-limits, with queries likely focusing not only on golf but also his extramarital affairs, single-car accident of Nov. 27 and relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, who is embroiled in a scandal of his own.
The leisurely pace that was around here on Sunday will certainly dissipate by the time the gates open on Monday.
Yes, the time for the first news conference is upon us, and although it is long overdue, the fact that he is having one suggests that we are getting closer to moving back to golf. No matter what he says, there will be those who are not satisfied.
It seems already that people have made up their minds. Some feel it's time to move on. Others feel he owes us lots of answers. Whatever happens Monday, Tiger will be able to say he faced the questions. He might not answer them all, but he faced them. And pretty soon, it's going to be about his golf and what he does between the ropes.