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Tiger having fun at Masters for a change

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It remains to be seen whether this kinder, gentler version of Tiger Woods can dominate golf tournaments like the steely-eyed assassin who claimed 14 of 'em, but we already know this much is true: He's a lot more fun to have around.

Through the first three days of Masters week, Woods has hugged, glad-handed and smiled his way around Augusta National. It culminated Wednesday afternoon in a loop around the Par 3 Contest with his girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, and his two children that featured perhaps the most normal 90 minutes of his professional career. His son, Charlie, handed him clubs; Sam, Woods' daughter, tapped in a few putts; and their dad looked genuinely enthused by the entire scene.

While most competitors spend the annual tradition basking in the moment with loved ones, Woods hadn't participated in the Par 3 Contest for 11 years, ostensibly busy putting on his game face. This time, his game face has appeared more relaxed and comfortable, as if the worries of competing at the highest level have been washed away by a new attitude.

None of which will mean anything come 1:48 p.m. ET on Thursday when he tees off.

From the beginning of his opening round, Woods will be judged less on demeanor and more on birdies and bogeys and the final tally on his scorecard.

If Woods races to a fast start, public sentiment will cry: "He should have started being more relaxed years ago and maybe he would have won more majors!"

If he stumbles early and never gets on track, it will be: "He can't expect to spend three days smiling and laughing and hugging his kids, then go out and try to win a major!"

The truth is, there exists no playbook on how to prepare for major championships. There is no surefire way to find success at these tournaments.

Woods did it his way for years, employing extreme focus and diligent preparation toward winning majors. Now he's doing it another way. And while he might not find success on the course this week, in his mind, he has already enjoyed plenty.

Not long after he walked off the Par 3 course with Vonn and his two kids, Woods tweeted thoughts about the past and, now, the present.

"I'll always have these memories of my pop at Augusta and now Sam & Charlie," he posted. "An amazing day."