March 17, 2010 — -- Augusta National is maddeningly deceptive. With its wide fairways and pristine vistas it lures you into thinking that scoring well is an easy task.
But the famous course has some of the most slippery and unforgiving greens in the business and it has humbled just about everyone who has ever played it.
With his decision to play the Masters, Tiger Woods has taken the most obvious route back to a venue that is well known for its order and unwillingness to accept anything other than model behavior from its fans, or "patrons," as they are called.
Each patron badge is tied to a name that can be banned from attending the event -- arguably golf's greatest -- for life. But like Augusta's greens, there are many ways Tiger can stumble as he attempts to restart his life and his golf career. More than just TV ratings and a major championship are at stake here. This is about fall and redemption.
As all eyes focus on Tiger, here is an analysis of what his corporate sponsors and the PGA will look for.
The operative words here are "changed" and "man." Tiger has been accused of being detached and cold on the course, and maybe that's what is necessary to win at the rate he has won. We don't really know, as no one has ever done it before him.
But if he is going to win back the hearts of fans and the respect of other players he will need to be more engaged, more gracious to the other players and mindful of his role as professional golf's chief ambassador.
In addition, Tiger has to mature. For years we tolerated his tantrums and club slamming, one word answers and snubbing of members of the press who wrote things he didn't like. That petulance, accepted in one so young with so much drive and talent, doesn't fit the older, billionaire, reformed playboy Tiger. Now he has to be a man -- modest in victory, gracious in defeat, more accepting of the fact that, like every other golfer, some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.
Tiger's remaining sponsors -- Nike, EA Sports and Gillette -- took a calculated risk. They banked on Tiger's full and successful return. What they need to see in Tiger during Masters week is that he is fully aware of his role in the partnership.
There are a lot of events that go on during the week, from dinners for past champions and golf writers to a wonderful tradition of welcoming and interacting with top amateurs, not to mention the large gathering of press. Tiger's sponsors will be evaluating how well he navigates the week. They will understand that he will not be able to fully participate, but they will want to see that when and where he does, he shows grace and skill.
As the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. The PGA wants it and corporations are chasing it.
If Tiger Woods manages to win the Masters, with the whole world watching after not playing a tournament since Nov. 15, 2009 (a tournament which by the way he won), he has taken a giant step towards reclaiming his life. We not only love winners, we demand them. We drop losers and also-rans quicker than politicians find excuses.
The entire Tiger Woods saga has been played off the golf course. Many people, including some who have strong opinions about Tiger, are not golf fans and have treated this long ordeal as a celebrity event. A lot of them will tune in to see what happens at the Masters. If Tiger Woods exhibits some of his past brilliance and wins in stirring fashion, there will be new fans. Although nothing will have changed from a sponsorship standpoint, he will be once again headed in the right direction.
Life imitates golf goes the old saying. Golfers everywhere believe that adage as a tenant of the religion. Golfers are on the course for four to five hours in the open with no cover. Many business deals are done on golf course because many believe it is hard, if not impossible, to hide who you really are.
There were actually a number of golf writers who wrote months before Tiger fell that he was in trouble. They wrote that he didn't look like he was having fun out there, and many were sure something was amiss at the PGA tournament when he lost to Y.E. Yang or when he let his club fly into the gallery in Australia. So everyone will be watching as Tiger walks up and down the undulating fairways of Augusta, looking for signs, trying to read the gestures and footfalls to figure out if the player returning is Tiger Woods or just a shadow of the former man.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Larry Woodard is president and CEO of Vigilante, a New York-based advertising agency that develops consumer-centric advertising campaigns. He is also chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies New York Council and the recipient of many prestigious industry awards, including two O'Toole Awards for Agency of the Year, the London International Award, Gold Effie, Telly, Mobius, Addy's and the Cannes Gold Lion. A blogger and a frequent public speaker, Woodard enjoys discussing the intersection of media, politics, entertainment and technology.