Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: When he's on the course, he's the same old Tiger

The day started with 80-year-old Arnold Palmer and 70-year-old Jack Nicklaus hitting ceremonial tee shots at Augusta National.

Later, 60-year-old Tom Watson shot to the top of the leader board, only to be overtaken by Fred Couples, who is 50.

The symmetrical nature of the opening day at the Masters couldn't be ignored, especially considering Phil Mickelson, 40 (in June), is just a shot out of the lead, too.

And then there was Tiger Woods, who must feel about 90 after the events of the past four-plus months. At least.

Like so many others, I watched Woods — who is 34 — hoping for... hoping for... well, I really couldn't decide what I was hoping for. I don't want him to win the Masters. Or do I? And if I do, why?

The sheer volume of his infidelity disgusts me. He is not who he said he was; he is something far less.

Yet it's much easier to dislike Woods (I'm not going to refer to him as Tiger in this column the way the CBS and ESPN announcing crews did all day long) when he doesn't have a golf club in his hands.

What he does on the golf course is art. It's impossible not to watch when Woods draws back his brush.

On the day of his first golf outing since mid-November, Nike, one of few corporate sponsors not to bail on Woods during this ordeal, released a television ad. It included a stoic Woods staring into the camera while his late father, Earl, spoke in a hushed tone about being a man and taking responsibility.

It was weird. Different, but weird. I watched it three times and it was still weird. I don't understand what Nike or Woods is trying to accomplish with the ad or why Woods signed off on it. If anything, it's going to cause me to buy Adidas.

I was uncomfortable looking at Woods in the television ad, but I had no problem watching him attack the course at Augusta. Maybe it's because we're programmed to watch Woods play golf.

The game is his escape, and he has much from which to escape. I couldn't stop wondering where his wife, Elin, was Thursday and whether she was watching on television.

I wondered about all the women with whom he cheated. Where were they Thursday? What were they thinking?

How much pain and suffering is still to come for his wife and his two children? How often did he think about that during his Thursday round, which concluded with a 4-under 68?

It's Woods as usual; ESPN showed every one of his shots during the round then, during its recap, showed many of the shots again.

On a day when the amazing Watson and the likable Couples turned back the clock, Woods was the focus.

I was surprised by the overwhelming reaction from the Masters crowd. It was positive. I noticed a few people in the gallery who failed to clap for Woods while everyone else was, but overwhelmingly he was welcomed back to Augusta and to the game that just isn't the same without him.

Why do people cheer for Woods? Perhaps it's habit. Perhaps there is a genuine hope for his redemption. Perhaps it's because his sheer golf talent elicits such a response.

If Woods was distracted, it didn't show. He looked like the same player he has always been, albeit with a few more smiles and acknowledgments of the gallery.

During his news conference Monday, Woods promised to take some of the edge off when he was out there competing, and it was obvious he was trying to do that. But the hair trigger of his temper was apparent a couple of times, though he did a good job to keep from exploding emotionally after a couple of errant shots.

I was hoping to feel a lot more negative about Woods on Thursday. I wanted to hate the very sight of him, but I didn't. When he's on the television screen during a golf tournament, my eyes are glued.

There were a few times that I had to catch myself, to be reminded of this man's horrible behavior. That's how much it felt like old times.

Everybody who follows golf has an opinion on Woods. Nobody I know of excuses his behavior. I'm suspicious that if the whole thing hadn't unraveled on the night after Thanksgiving in his posh Florida neighborhood, Woods would still be living the same unseemly life.

But sometimes it takes being caught to make a change. Who am I to suggest that Woods can't make amends?

This is where it gets so confusing for me. I know I'll never feel the same way about Woods. I just don't know how I feel now, even though I thought I did.

He played a round of golf Thursday and it was all so normal. Maybe I still like Woods the golfer. As a husband and a father, though, he's not so hot.