Reports: Tiger Smiling As If He (Re)Discovered Buddhism
By Stephanie Wei under General

Maybe Tiger Woods really has embraced the way of the Buddha — in a way he never did before. Reporters are filing stories that they’re seeing a different Tiger than the one who usually walks down the fairway with an icy cold stare. Get this — he’s smiling…a lot!

Playing in a practice round with Fred Couples at Augusta National this morning, Tiger stepped up to the first tee at around 8AM with a crowd of about 500 people waiting. There were no hecklers. Only words of encouragement and a quiet uneasiness filled the fairways.

John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal wrote:

Let it be noted that the first fan call-out to Tiger Woods this morning, at 7:39 a.m., was a reference to the boxer Muhammad Ali: “Greater than Ali, Tiger. Greater than Ali.”

Unlike Woods’s typically tuned-out response before the events of the last few months, he frequently made eye contact with the people who called to him, nodded his head and said, “Thank you.” It wasn’t quite the Phil Mickelson Show. Neither is walking to a Monday morning practice round the same thing as a competitive round. But Woods was notably more responsive than he has have been in the past.

ESPN’s Jason Sobel reported:

After walking off the first tee, one fan called out, “Welcome back, Tiger!” to which the four-time Masters champion nodded his head in acknowledgement. Later, another observer commented, “Great day for golf, Tiger,” and the pro cheerily responded, “Yes, it is.”

This was largely the theme of the morning, as a large, supportive gallery followed Woods and Couples, often applauding and offering words of encouragement to the two players. An increased security team was also on hand to prevent any possible disorderly conduct toward the competitors.

Doug Ferguson of the AP filed this:

Woods hooked his opening tee shot toward the ninth fairway and hit another. He walked briskly, chatting with Couples as fans lining the fairways took pictures of every step. Also getting plenty of attention was his swing coach Hank Haney, who posed for a half-dozen pictures behind the third tee.

Haney declined to talk about Woods or his game.

“Everyone can see for themselves how he’s playing,” Haney said.

Jim McCabe notes Tiger’s interaction with fans as well as agent Mark Steinberg’s:

As he walked down the first hole, Steinberg remarked that he couldn’t “remember the last time I walked a practice round,” and at several occasions Woods’ agent stopped to talk to key Augusta National members.

Perhaps of more interest than Woods’ swings was his acknowledgement of the fans. It was duly noted that at the second tee Woods shook hands with a patron and on several occasions he seemed to smile and nod his head toward the cheers.

Okay, Tiger is acknowledging the fans, but from what I saw on ESPN, it seemed really awkward — like everyone was on edge. Anyway! I’m heading over to USA Today to join the chat as we prepare for Tiger’s press conference at 2. Come say hi.

[Photo by David J Phillips/AP]