Is Everyone Really Rooting For Tiger Woods To Win? With This Leaderboard?

↵Tiger Woods is the best golfer on the planet. We all know that and no 144-day layoff from competitive golf will ever tell us otherwise. The biggest question heading into the first round of the Masters shouldn't have been how Tiger would play, but more how Tiger would be received. Other than an airplane sign featuring a cheesy pun about "booty" and Buddhism, there was no backlash at all. ↵

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↵ESPN's Wendy Nix reported during the pre-coverage SportsCenter that the support for Tiger Woods was "100 percent positive. Not 98 or 99 percent. One-hundred percent." When you watch the video of Woods teeing off at No. 1, what seemed more amazing than him grooving one on the screws right down the fairway was that, indeed, everyone was on his side. There wasn't one person abstaining from applause. Women – old and young alike – weren't just clapping politely for Woods; they were actively pulling for him. It was as if their applause was redemptive fuel for Tiger. The louder they clapped as he sauntered down the first fairway, the better he'd feel, and perhaps the better he'd play. It's as if those patrons on the first tee took a stake in his success, both in golf and, seemingly, in life. ↵

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↵There are really only two answers for the question of whether or not we, as golf fans, are rooting for Woods to win. First, it may be as simple as golf fans just not caring about Woods' transgressions. The last five months were a distraction from golf, and fans of the sport finally got the game back from the clutches of the tabloid media with one simple tee shot. Perhaps the applause wasn't as much for Woods as it was for the sport, itself. ↵

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↵Second, if in fact golf fans do care about Woods' personal shortcomings as much as his short game, maybe those of us cheering for Woods – if you listen to talk radio and read comments online, it wasn't just the patrons at Augusta pulling for him – simply love greatness more than righteousness. Maybe Tiger's ability to smack a golf ball is just higher on our list of why we like sports than what he did to his wife and kids. Remember, we didn't cheer him for kissing his wife after he won all those tournaments. We were cheering the dominance. We were cheering the wins. ↵

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↵Of course, on matters of golf, it's best to defer to the brilliance of David Feherty, who commented on the telecast after one of Tiger's two eagles on the day: ↵

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↵⇥"Somebody loves him. That's one thing I believe has remained constant throughout all of this is that he loves the game of golf, and it loves him right back. Creature in his natural habitat … hope everything else works out for him." ↵
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↵Alas, Tiger is set up to win, or at least contend, again. In fact, it's one of the best leaderboards at a Masters the first day has ever seen. Let's take a look at some of the names. ↵

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↵• We've covered Woods, who sits in a tie for seventh place with Ricky Barnes and a slew of other top names including Ian Poulter, Nick Watney and Anthony Kim. If Woods shared the final two pairings on Sunday with any three of those four, it would be great for golf. ↵

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↵• Ahead of the group at 4-under are five players who shot 5-under 67 on the day. K.J. Choi played the day with Woods and quietly carded a round that's one stroke better than Tiger. Choi, who finished third in 2004, birdied four straight holes on the back nine. Y.E. Yang is the reigning major champion on the PGA Tour, winning last season's PGA Championship over Woods. Lee Westwood is, perhaps, the best player in the world to never win a major. His best finish at the Masters came more than a decade ago when he tied for sixth, but he has finished in a tie for third in each of the last two majors of 2009. He hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation on Thursday with two sand saves. If he make better use of the putter – 29 putts on the day – he can win his first major this weekend. ↵

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↵Also at 5-under are two names you may have heard before: Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson. Mickelson has played subpar golf this season but turned it around Thursday and seems to be in control of his game. Hitting just six of 14 fairways, Mickelson hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation. Watson, who is 60 years old, missed a put on 18 that would have given him a 66 on the day. Other than that, and an approach shot in to the creek on 13, Watson's day was flawless. The man only had 24 putts and remarkably finds himself in a tie for second place. ↵

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↵• And why is the old man in second? Because another (not quite as) old man is in first. Fred Couples carded his best round ever at Augusta with a 6-under 66. Couples also had just 24 putts on the day and seems completely relaxed. ↵

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↵• With a leaderboard like this, we don't even have to mention former champions like Trevor Immelman (-3) or Zach Johnson (-2) lurking behind the leaders. Sandy Lyle, who won the Masters in 1988 at the age of 30 is barely a footnote on the board at three under par at age 52. And if I had to pick someone we haven't mentioned yet to win this tournament, it'd be David Toms, who sits comfortably at three under as well. ↵

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↵This could be the most star-studded leader board of all time after one day. It's almost enough to forget about all that other stuff. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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