Woods will return at Masters

Tournament badges are still tough to obtain, media access is limited and security will be the same.

Tiger Woods' return to this year's Masters Tournament will not change the operations surrounding the April 8-11 event.

Woods, who has not played competitively since winning the Australian Masters in November, announced his return to golf Tuesday. His return has been highly anticipated after the events of Thanksgiving night at Woods' Florida home led to revelations of a sex scandal, which touched off a media frenzy.

"The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect," Woods said in a statement. "After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta."

Woods is a four-time Masters winner. He has 14 career victories in golf's major championships, and is second all-time to Jack Nicklaus, who has 18.

"The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it's been a while since I last played," Woods said.

Billy Payne, the chairman of the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club, said the club is supportive of Woods' return.

"We support Tiger's decision to return to competitive golf beginning at this year's Masters Tournament," Payne said in a statement. "Additionally, we support and encourage his stated commitment to continue the significant work required to rebuild his personal and professional life."

A safer place

The Masters offers a controlled environment for Woods, who has been chased by tabloid media since he crashed his vehicle outside his home in November. Augusta National limits media credentials -- the club said it grants access to those whose principal responsibility is to cover the game of golf and the Masters Tournament -- and it is the only authorized source of Masters badges. The tournament's patrons are known for their manners and hospitality; rowdy fans run the risk of losing their badges for good.

Security at Augusta National is provided by a private firm and is supplemented by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

Richmond County Col. Gary Powell said he has heard no requests for any changes to their security plan because of Woods' appearance. He said they don't anticipate any major problems with either the media or crowds.

"We have that place sealed up tight," Powell said.

Masters badges are considered one of the toughest tickets to obtain, but don't look for a big increase in pricing, said Mark Young, the owner of Corporate Sporting Events in Augusta.

"When the vibe came around last week in regard to him most likely coming, there was a little bit of a change," Young said. "But it went away just as fast it came."

Young's business specializes in package deals that offer badges, housing, transportation and other amenities (such as food and tee times) that clients want. He said interest in packages has remained steady through the winter. But demand for badges could spike if Woods is in contention on the weekend.

"It's exciting and we're looking forward to a great tournament," Young said. "If he were to get into the hunt, you would definitely see a movement out there with ticket holders."

The return

Woods' ascension to the top of golf more than a decade ago made his fall from grace even more spectacular.

In his first public appearance since the scandal drove him into seclusion, the world's No. 1 golfer apologized in February for his marital infidelity and admitted he was undergoing therapy.

Woods married Elin Nordegren in 2004. The couple have two children, Sam Alexis and Charlie Axel.

"I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment," said Woods, who was in a Mississippi clinic for 45 days and then attended a clinic in Arizona for one week. "Although I'm returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life."

Speculation in recent weeks had Woods returning to golf at either the Tavistock Cup, a competition between Orlando, Fla., clubs, or the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Both events will be held next week.

"When I finally got into a position to think about competitive golf again, it became apparent to me that the Masters would be the earliest I could play," he said. "I called both Joe Lewis and Arnold Palmer and expressed my regrets for not attending the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I again want to thank them both for their support and their understanding. Those are fantastic tournaments and I look forward to competing in them again."

Woods scored a watershed victory in the 1997 Masters, his first major as a professional. He became the first black golfer to win a major, and he set Masters records for youngest winner (21) and 72-hole total (270).

The victory set the record for television ratings for a golf tournament -- an estimated 43 million viewers tuned in for the final round -- and similar ratings could occur for CBS this year if Woods makes the 36-hole cut and is in contention on the weekend.

"I think the first tournament Tiger Woods plays again, wherever it is, will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years," said CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus in an interview published on si.com before Tuesday's announcement.

Woods, 34, added Masters victories in 2001, 2002 and 2005.

"I would also like to thank the Augusta National members and staff for their support," Woods said. "I have deep appreciation for everything that they do to create a wonderful event for the benefit of the game."

Staff writer Adam Folk contributed to this article.

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A Statement from Tiger Woods:

Tiger Woods announced today that he will begin his 2010 season at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in April.

“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect.  After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta.

“The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it’s been a while since I last played.

“I have undergone almost two months of inpatient therapy and I am continuing my treatment.  Although I’m returning to competition, I still have a lot of work to do in my personal life.

“When I finally got into a position to think about competitive golf again, it became apparent to me that the Masters would be the earliest I could play. I called both Joe Lewis and Arnold Palmer and expressed my regrets for not attending the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.  I again want to thank them both for their support and their understanding.  Those are fantastic tournaments and I look forward to competing in them again.

“I would also like to thank the Augusta National members and staff for their support. I have deep appreciation for everything that they do to create a wonderful event for the benefit of the game.”

The big questions

Q: With Woods playing this year, what is the market for badges?

A: Costs vary according to what other services (housing, food, transportation) are offered. For Woods' historic win in 1997, four-day tournament badges fetched more than $6,000, said Mark Young, the owner of Corporate Sporting Events. "In those times it was sort of exciting, but I don't think we'll see those days again," he said.

Q: When will Woods arrive in Augusta?

A: As a former champion, he has a lifetime invitation to play in the Masters. He also can play the course in preparation for the tournament. In recent years, Woods has shown up on the Sunday before the tournament to play a practice round. He typically conducts a pretournament interview on the Tuesday of Masters Week, but that schedule has not been announced.

Q: Where will Woods stay?

A: Woods traditionally rents a private home in west Augusta. Augusta National has several cabins on its property, but those are reserved for use only by club members.

Q: Can I get a Masters badge?

A: The Masters is still considered one of the toughest tickets in sports. Augusta National Golf Club is the only authorized source for badges, but they can also be obtained through brokers. A waiting list to receive series badges, good for all four tournament rounds, was closed in 1978. Tickets for the practice rounds were limited and sold in advance beginning in 1995.

-- John Boyette, sports editor

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