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Masters favorite Tiger Woods no easier to read

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot 10th hole during first round Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Orlando Fla. Thursday March

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the 10th hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, March 21, 2013.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

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Updated: April 10, 2013 1:50PM



AUGUSTA, Ga. — There seem to be two distinct approaches to Tiger Woods these days.

The first is the old standby, the one in which opponents instinctively shake in their FootJoys at the mere idea of Tiger in a red shirt on Sundays. It says: He’s No. 1 in the world, and you’d be a fool to forget that.

Rory McIlroy demonstrated that mind-set Tuesday when asked whether he has a rivalry with Woods.

‘‘He’s got 77 PGA Tour [victories]; I’ve got six,’’ McIlroy said. ‘‘He’s got 14 majors; I’ve got two. If I saw myself a rival to Tiger, I wouldn’t really be doing him much justice.’’

The second approach is the one Adam Scott took Tuesday. It’s the more dangerous tack, the one that doesn’t at all mean to be dismissive of Woods but wanders into that territory nonetheless. It says that many of the people playing in this year’s Masters were not around when he was laying waste to golf courses around the world. So, aura? What aura?

‘‘He’s always a threat at any golf tournament,’’ Scott said. ‘‘But he’s far from running away with it at the moment. He’s just returned to No. 1, and that’s just a number at the end of the day. I mean, there are so many players playing well. I think it’s just not a foregone conclusion.

‘‘. . . The biggest thing is they weren’t out here when he was [dominating] and never saw that. So they don’t know of him really doing that or haven’t seen him at that level where he has played before. I think that’s the difference. I think he’d have to put runs on the board again to get back to that.’’

Woods does seem poised to do it. He has won six tournaments in the last 12 months, which is why bookmakers have made him the favorite to win the Masters.

The story line here is that Tiger is happier than he has been in a long time. Is it true? I don’t know. The story line at the Final Four was that Louisville coach Rick Pitino is humbler now. Is it true? I don’t know that, either. I do know that Pitino went on and on about his newfound humility at two news conferences.

Woods talked Tuesday about having ‘‘balance’’ in his life now, but he has lost the benefit of the doubt about his personal life. Nike’s latest ad featuring Tiger seems to wink at the 2009 sex scandal that cost him his marriage and many of his corporate sponsors. On Tuesday, he dismissed the controversy over the ad, saying the quote it is based on — ‘‘Winning takes care of everything’’ — dates back to a statement he made in 1996, when he turned pro.

You could argue that someone in Woods’ camp should have seen how insensitive and patronizing those words were — insensitive to the people in his life who were hurt by his actions and patronizing to the fans whom Nike thinks can be placated by a new No. 1 world ranking.

In the end, though, Woods and his team might have it exactly right: As long as he is winning tournaments, the masses will be happy.

He has a new girlfriend, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. They have asked that the public respect their privacy, and at Tuesday’s news conference at Augusta National, not a word was heard about the relationship. The National Enquirer was nice enough to give us an update, however:

‘‘The horndog golfer isn’t chasing after bimbos again. This time, the other woman is his ex-wife, Elin.’’

Woods says he takes great pleasure in being a father to his two children.

‘‘It’s a beautiful juggling act,’’ he said. ‘‘. . . That’s the joy in life, to be able to watch them grow and help them grow.’’

The easy thing, the safe thing, is for all of us to concentrate on his golf game. That way, if he hurts you, you’ll only be done in by a bad putt or an errant approach shot.

Woods is healthy now. He can practice without worrying about a painful knee that helped drop his world ranking to 58th in 2011. That, not serenity, is why he’s playing well, he said.

He has won the Masters four times, the last one in 2005. He’s hungry. And even though McIlroy doesn’t consider Woods a rival, Woods considers McIlroy one.

‘‘Rory’s the leader of this new, younger generation,’’ he said. ‘‘So, yes, definitely.’’

McIlroy should consider himself warned.



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