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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Brooks Blanton

Atlanta, GA

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Tigers Return Draws Huge Crowds

April 5, 2010 - 12:47 PM | by: Brooks Blanton

Tiger Woods returns to golf in Augusta, Georgia, this week, making the normally huge crowds for the Masters tournament even larger.  Woods returns to tournament play after a sexual scandal rocked his family and nearly ruined his career.  The world’s number one golfer and four-time Masters champion played an 18-hole practice round this morning.  This week marks the first time he has played in a tournament since he admitted to numerous affairs with several women.

The national and international interest in what Woods will say to reporters and how he will play this week has brought a crush of media, curious on-lookers and entrepreneurs to Georgia.  The golf icon is scheduled to hold an afternoon press conference on Monday where he will answer questions, a change in strategy from a refusal to answer reporter questions at a press conference earlier this year.

This normally quiet city of about 200,000 people along the Savannah River in Georgia is bursting at the seams as “Tiger-Mania” grips this year’s tournament.  Hotel rooms are hard to find while the few that are empty rent for nearly four times the typical rate.  Businesses like restaurants, churches, gas stations and even transmission shops near  Augusta National Golf Club are selling parking spaces at premium prices.  Wait times for a table at restaurants in and around the city during the dinner rush can be up to two hours.

The crush of cars and pedestrians into The Augusta National Club began early this morning on the first day of practice rounds.  Washington Road, the four lane street that runs in front of the famed golfing mecca, was jammed with lines of cars and crowded with a sea of pedestrians making their way to the front gate.  Decked out in visors, brightly colored shirts and plaid bermuda shorts, many of these devoted golf fans make the annual trek here to watch the “best of the best” on the links.  But the interest in Tiger’s return to the game is obviously overshadowing who will win the coveted Green Jacket this year.

A few protestors carry signs among the crowds in front of the club this morning, evidence that some are still not happy with the details about Tiger’s admitted affairs with other women.  But the crowds here seem to be largely in favor of Woods, who has been working hard to repair his image and save his lucrative golf career.

Many feel he has already paid the price for his misgivings, and feel the issue is now a personal matter between him and his family.  The crowds of golf fans feel this week should be about getting back to the game that has made Augusta, Georgia the only place to be…at least for this week.

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