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Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 16:47 UK

Fans applaud Tiger Woods as he returns to public gaze

Tiger Woods news conference
Date: Monday, 5 April 2010, 1900 BST
Coverage: Live on the BBC News Channel with live streaming on BBC Sport website (UK users only)

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Rajesh Mirchandani reports on reaction to Tiger Woods' return to golf at Augusta

Tiger Woods was applauded by fans as he concluded his practice round at Augusta National ahead of the Masters.

The fans showed their appreciation of an approach shot to within 10 feet of the flag on the 18th hole.

It was the first time he has played in public in almost five months after the furore surrounding his private life.

Playing partner Fred Couples said: "We are buddies. The reception was awesome and I think he is fine. I love the way he plays - he's still the best."

Around 500 watched Woods tee off at the Augusta National on Monday.

The 34-year-old had played a practice round behind closed doors on Sunday.

Couples added: "My goal (today) was not to talk to Tiger about his life, but to learn how to play this course.

"His intimidation factor is always there. Guys are intimidated by the way you play golf."

Woods was not drawn as he walked off the course when a reporter asked for an interview, only responding: "I've got a press conference, haven't I?"

Woods will appear at that full news conference for the first time since admitting to several extra-marital affairs at 1900 BST.

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During his round, Woods gratefully acknowledged occasional shouts of encouragement from the gallery.

Woods chipped in twice from off the third green, but may find his engagement with the press later on Monday more challenging.

The news conference will be attended by 180 specially accredited journalists.

Since the revelations over his private life were made public, he has given two five-minute interviews to separate American television broadcasters.

Woods will tee off in his first tournament for five months on Thursday.

The American arrived at Augusta without prior notice on Sunday, along with about a dozen players, on the new practice range.

He chatted with Britain's Paul Casey and began hitting balls before heading to the course for a practice round.

"It's where I'm used to seeing him," said Casey. "All of a sudden he appeared behind me. He was all business as usual - hit 10 balls and go play."

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Fellow American Jim Furyk added: "He's probably here a little earlier than normal. I've never seen him here on a Sunday. Generally, it's nice to have him back and I can't wait until he's out here and I don't have to answer any more questions about him."

Woods is seeking to win his fifth Masters title on his return after the scandal surrounding his private life erupted late last year.

He crashed his car into a fire hydrant and a tree near his Florida home on 27 November, an incident that led to a storm of publicity about his private life.

In February, he admitted being unfaithful to his wife Elin while making a tearful public apology.

Wood's last tournament appearance was on 15 November - when he won the Australian Masters.

"We need to stand behind him," PGA Tour stalwart Kenny Perry said.

Other golfers believe Woods will return to the sport fully focused as he bids to capture the five major titles he needs to surpass the record of 18 currently held by Jack Nicklaus.

"He has made a mistake and he has come forward and really taken full responsibility," said close friend and former Masters champion Mark O'Meara.

"Now that he has come clean and he is trying to get better, you have to respect that. You don't respect what happened, but we have to let the guy move forward."

Woods has had seven top-three finishes from 15 starts at Augusta and those who have witnessed his practice sessions in the build-up to this year's event have been impressed.

"He's hitting it longer than before," Indian Arjun Atwal observed.

"I don't see anybody hit the ball like he does," said American John Cook. "That's vintage. I don't see anybody beating him."

Perry, joint runner-up to Angel Cabrera at Augusta last year, said: "I think he's going to come back and play great.

"He has got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. I think it's going to make him stronger."

Woods has admitted he is wary of the reception he will receive from the galleries but former US Open champion Retief Goosen said: "I don't think he's going to be the bad guy. He's going to be 99.9% the good guy.

"There's only going to be that 0.1% that is going to make comments. That's probably going to make him feel a little bit like the rest of us."



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see also
What is blood spinning?
06 Apr 10 |  Golf
Photos of Tiger Woods at Augusta
04 Apr 10 |  Golf
Harrington open to Woods pairing
03 Apr 10 |  Golf
Woods to make comeback at Masters
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Tiger Woods dropped by Gatorade
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Golf world welcomes Woods apology
19 Feb 10 |  Golf
Repentant Woods sorry for affairs
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Tiger Woods: Celebrity under pressure
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Tiger Woods takes break from golf
12 Dec 09 |  Americas
Golfer Woods 'fine' after crash
27 Nov 09 |  Americas
Tiger Woods warms up for Masters
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