A golf story: Tiger back on course

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- And with that, the page has turned.

For months, the Tiger Woods story has been one of deceit and denial, tribulations and transgressions, conjecture and cover-ups. It was one of sex, as alleged mistresses revealed themselves -- in the literal sense, too -- nearly every day. It was one of drugs, as his relationship to Dr. Anthony Galea, who is charged with drug trafficking, was in question; of family, as his marriage to wife Elin was forced to endure an international spotlight; and of addiction, as he entered a treatment facility to cure himself of, well, whatever it was that needed curing.

In short, it was a Dan Jenkins novel come to life -- right down to the main character with the catchy golf name.

Through it all, those who previously believed a 6-iron could de-wrinkle shirts have developed a new fascination with the world's best golfer. The guy with a yacht named "Privacy" was taking on water, his ship sinking before the eyes of the world.

On Monday, everything changed.

For the first time since this entire scandal became front-page news, Woods faced a firing squad of questions from a multitude of reporters, answering 48 of them during a 34-minute news conference in advance of this week's Masters Tournament.

He addressed many questions. Others he dismissed. He was sincere, contrite and apologetic, but appeared more relieved than anything else. Relieved that he was clearing the air, relieved that he was putting much of this behind him, relieved that he could finally move on to the one thing that made him so famous in the first place.

That's right: golf.

With the initial news conference now behind him, we have officially entered a new chapter in the Tiger Woods story. It's now all about golf once again.

"A lot has happened in my life over the past five months," Woods said. "I'm here at the Masters to play and compete, just really excited about doing that. I missed the competition. I missed seeing the guys out here."

Unlike so many of his fellow tabloid superstars, Woods has actually earned acclaim for his achievements rather than his image. And so rather than retreating into some Hollywood fortress forever, he has emerged to ply his given craft on the game's most famous stage.

If there was any doubt as to how observers would react to him in his return to competition, it was erased during his first practice round in front of the public at Augusta National Golf Club. Although it seemed a lukewarm yet supportive and certainly respectful reception, the four-time champion viewed it as something "incredible," using that word to describe the scene on five separate occasions in the ensuing news conference.

"The fans were incredible."

"For them to still cheer for me is just incredible."

"It's been just an incredible experience."

"That was just an incredible reception."

"It was just incredible."

Woods can be excused for the extreme hyperbole considering his recent plight. He maintained that he was "nervous" for his first round back, while agent Mark Steinberg offered that he was "anxious." Now that it's out of the way, though -- the reunions with his fellow pros, the initial shot in front of a gallery, the first news conference -- he becomes just another competitor, albeit one whose performance will be analyzed as if under a microscope.

But that's OK. It means we're all moving on, from the sordid tales of ill repute to queries about how his golf game will hold up under pressure and following a 144-day absence from tournament play.

He won't disappear from the headlines, but he will make news for his performance more than anything else.

"That first tee, I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I haven't looked forward to that tee shot in a long time -- not like this. It feels fun again. You know, that's something that's been missing. Have I been winning? Have I been competing? Have I been doing well? Yeah, I have. I've won numerous times the last few years, but I wasn't having anywhere near the amount of fun. Why? Because look at what I was engaged in. When you live a life where you're lying all the time, life is not fun. And that's where I was. Now that's been stripped all away and here I am. And it feels fun again."

Based on those words, it would be easy to believe that Woods' final result at the Masters will be considered a success if his smiles outnumber his groans, if the applause here at Augusta drowns out any catcalls.

This is Tiger Woods we're talking about, though. The world's No. 1-ranked player, the guy with 14 major championship titles to his credit. And so when he was asked about his expectations for the week, he broke into the wide grin that we've known for so many years but haven't seen recently.

"Nothing's changed," he said. "Going to go out there and try to win this thing."

Now that would be some kind of golf story.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.