Tiger Woods surprised commentators and quieted critics when he finished an impressive two shots off the lead after 144 days away from the competition.
"It is a reminder that he can do what most other golfers can't do. The 20 weeks, everything that has happened has not changed his physical ability and talent to do this skill in this sport," ESPN golf anchor Mike Tirico said on "Good Morning America" today. "It really is extraordinary to be away that long and be that good on this difficult course."
After months of headlines about affairs, therapy and his marriage, the scandal-plagued golfer shot four under par Thursday, his best opening round at the Masters ever.
Woods didn't flinch when two taunting banners flew overhead. One read "Sex addict? Yeah. Right. Sure. Me too!!" (Woods has not specified what treatment he is receiving, although it is widely believed that he enrolled in a sex addiction rehab program.)
Instead the golfer concentrated on the fans who greeted him with more than a minute of applause.
Tirico was surprised by the warm reaction, calling it "strong and encouraging." He thinks the visible support helped Woods.
"[Woods] said off and on the air that that reception really put him in the mind frame for the success he had on the course," Tirico said.
The golfer also credits his success to practice, but John Feinstein, a golf writer and author, said there could be more to it.
"I'm saying this as a compliment, as selfish as he is about his golf it allows him to step inside the ropes, block out everything that's happened since Nov. 27 and play great golf," Feinstein said.
Since Woods came to Augusta, Ga., earlier this week he has been trying to remake his image. He has been friendly with the fans, his fellow golfers and even the press.
But Thursday brought back occasional moments of the Woods of old. He was short with the press and visibly upset after a shot on the 14th hole.
"I saw a little bit of the new Tiger, or the Tiger that is trying to emerge, and the old Tiger. I saw more smiles, more conversation within his group yesterday than normally at the Masters, but also frustration," Tirico said.
"It was like Tiger wanted to be really mad, then caught himself and stopped a few times," Tirico said. "And with the media in the press conference I think it was a little short. I think it would behoove him to be a little more open with the press in general going forward."
Nike released a 33 second commercial Wednesday night showing Woods, wearing a Nike hat and shirt, staring into the camera as the voice of his dead father is played.
"Tiger," Earl Woods says in the commercial, seemingly speaking directly to the golfer. "I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. Did you learn anything?"
But Earl Woods was not speaking to his son. The audio was ripped from a 2004 DVD where Earl Woods was talking about his wife, Kultida.
The black and white commercial, created by the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, aired on the eve of Tiger's return to professional golf and evokes an imagined conversation between the golfer and his dead father presumably addressing the sex scandal that derailed the golfer's career for five months.