For Tiger Woods, the path to perdition was a short drive from the parking lot of his home in Florida to a fire hydrant on a neighbour's property. But the road to redemption, on which he has embarked bravely by announcing his return to competitive golf at the Augusta Masters, is likely to be long and bumpy. He will need all his legendary fighting skills to begin the arduous process of rebuilding his life and career. The sports media have always been kind to him, even in awe of him, until his serial philandering came to light a few months ago. But that phase of his career may well be over. At the Masters, however clever and imaginative his PR team (headed now by the former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer), he is likely to be confronted for the first time by a largely adversarial media. His long silence and half-hearted apology, followed much later by a press conference at which he seemed to want to do all the right things but failed to do them, did not do much to restore his image among the media, corporate sponsors, or even his fans. In the event, reassembling brand Woods would appear less important than regaining public trust — something the champion lost with his akratic behaviour.

On the other hand, it would be churlish to begrudge Woods his return stage. The return of a great sportsman who has given so much joy to millions of people and whose best may still lie ahead is decidedly an event to celebrate. If there are those who believe that Woods has hijacked the year's first Major at the game's most hallowed venue for self-serving ends, they need to be reminded that everybody — not least a prodigiously gifted champion who has redefined the sport — deserves a second chance. This has nothing to do with television ratings, although it is true that Woods's return could lift the value of sponsors' TV spots by more than 40 per cent and viewership by more than 50 per cent. It is an elemental part of what sport is about — it's the capacity to offer the chance for transformation. If Diego Maradona, Shane Warne, and Kobe Bryant managed to vault over career-threatening humps, then there is no reason to believe that Woods cannot. “I fully expected Tiger to play the Masters and that will be good for Augusta,'' says Jack Nicklaus. Before Tiger was old enough to enrol in a school, his father Earl Woods told him that breaking Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles was going to be his life mission. Now he has a second chance to accomplish what has always seemed Mission Possible.

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