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CLINE: Augusta, get ready for a circus

The Associated Press. Tiger Woods, left, adjusts the Masters Green Jacket he received April 14, 2002, from Augusta National Golf Club chairman William W. "Hootie" Johnson as Johnson applauds at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta.

The Associated Press. Tiger Woods, left, adjusts the Masters Green Jacket he received April 14, 2002, from Augusta National Golf Club chairman William W. "Hootie" Johnson as Johnson applauds at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta.

We're used to seeing tigers in the circus. Now we have to get used to Tiger being one.

Golf fans can mark April 8 on their calendar as Tiger Woods' first day back after his self-imposed exile from the sport after a crash of his car was followed by the crash of his image. Woods made the announcement that he will make his return at the first major tournament of the year -- the Masters.

That means Augusta National Golf Club will be the first stop on what is destined to be a yearlong traveling circus featuring the World's Most Famous Athlete who also happens to currently be the World's Biggest Rogue. And this stop will be huge. There's not a big top that could hold it.

How big? CBS Sports President Sean McManus said that only Obama's inauguration can rival it as one of the biggest media events in recent history. Think about the magnitude of that statement.

The ratings for CBS -- which airs the final two rounds with ESPN airing the first two -- will be huge, the media coverage wall to wall. This is reality television at its realist. A protagonist who has fallen from his pedestal ready to regain respect -- at least professionally -- at one of his sport's most hallowed arenas. Must-see TV, indeed.

But viewers won't be watching as much to see if Tiger wins as for how he holds up, how he reacts and how he answers questions if anyone gets to ask him one. In that regard he's become like a character on any other reality show. Hard to believe that a person so rich and so famous could become, in some ways, so common.

While Woods' golf ranking hasn't fallen -- he's still No. 1 in the world -- his status has. Some of the record number of people who tune in will be rooting for him to play poorly, to somehow "get what he deserves" for his transgressions. His popularity, like his list of sponsors, has waned.

I talked to a guy the other day who said his significant other made him take down his Tiger memorabilia and put it in storage. And the framed picture I have commemorating my trip to see Tiger win the British Open in 2005 still generates conversation, just none of it positive.

That's how much things have changed for Woods. In three weeks golf watchers will be joined by celebrity watchers and reality TV fans who will tune in to see the circus for themselves.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.