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Archive for Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tiger’s return finally near arrival

Woods’ presence figures to make Masters one like no other

April 4, 2010

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— Tiger Woods will drive past the 61 trees that form a canopy down Magnolia Lane, pull up in front of the white clubhouse at Augusta National and walk up the stairs on the side of the building to a locker room reserved for Masters champions.

It’s a routine he has followed since he won his first green jacket.

Nothing else about this Masters figures to be remotely routine, not even that familiar introduction on the first tee.

“Fore, please. Tiger Woods.”

Five months after a sex scandal that still lingers on the Internet and in the tabloids, Woods is coming back to golf — at a major that already attracts the largest television audience.

From his first news conference on Monday to his opening tee shot on Thursday, through Amen Corner and along the azaleas and dogwoods and Georgia pines, this should be a Masters like no other.

“I think it’s going to be one of the biggest events in golf history, because the biggest player in golf history is going to come back from this absence, and everybody is going to be scrutinizing his game and what he says and where he goes and where he has dinner ... everything,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said.

For a dozen years, Woods has been the favorite to win at Augusta.

Now he’s everyone’s favorite punch line.

The countdown toward Jack Nicklaus and his record 18 majors has been replaced by a count of his mistresses.

“He’s made a career out of exceeding expectations,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “He’s spent his whole life under a microscope, but this is going to be on a level he’s never seen before.”

Woods went 15 weeks without touching a club while in seclusion from the paparazzi and in therapy for the deviant double life he was leading. He began practicing on Feb. 28. He spent two days at Augusta National in the weeks leading up to the Masters.

Even so, he has no idea what to expect when he returns — from his game or from the gallery.

“I’m a little nervous about that to be honest with you,” he told ESPN in a pair of five-minute interviews he gave television. “It would be nice to hear a couple claps here and there.”

GOLF

Kim, Molder tied at Houston

Humble, Texas — Anthony Kim and Bryce Molder are tied for the lead heading into the final round of the Houston Open, the final event before the Masters. Kim struggled off the tee on Saturday, but relied on good putting to shoot a 3-under 69 that left him at 10 under for the tournament. Molder, the second-round leader, made four bogeys and five birdies for a 71.

Vaughn Taylor (70) and Joe Ogilvie (71) were two back at 8 under after both bogeyed the difficult 18th hole. Houston resident Jeff Maggert (70), Graham DeLaet (71) and Lee Westwood (72) were three strokes behind the leaders.

Stupples storms into lead

Rancho Mirage, Calif. — Karen Stupples shot a 4-under 68 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Stupples, the 36-year-old English star who won the 2004 Women’s British Open, had a 10-under 206 total at Mission Hills in the season’s first major.

Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen shot 67s to reach 9 under. Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa rebounded from a slow start with birdies on three of her last seven holes for a 71 to join second-round leader Song Hee-Kim (72) at 7 under.

BOXING

Hopkins outpoints Jones

Las Vegas — Bernard Hopkins won a brutal unanimous decision over Roy Jones Jr. in their long-delayed rematch Saturday night, emphatically avenging his loss in the famed champions’ first fight nearly 17 years ago.

The 45-year-old Hopkins (51-5-1, 32 KOs) dominated nearly every round of a light heavyweight bout filled with wily veteran tactics and fueled by obvious mutual hatred. He won for the fifth time in his six fights since 2005.

NFL

Rogers pleads not guilty

Cleveland — Cleveland Browns nose tackle Shaun Rogers has pleaded not guilty to a concealed weapons charge after authorities say he tried to carry a loaded handgun through airport security in a carry-on bag.

TENNIS

Clijsters tops Venus for title

Key Biscayne, Fla. — Kim Clijsters won Sony Ericsson Open on Saturday by beating Venus Williams, 6-2, 6-1. Clijsters won 17 points in a row early in the second set Saturday to pull away. She completed the victory in 58 minutes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Notre Dame recruit dies

Panama City, Fla. — Matt James, a Notre Dame football recruit, died Friday after falling from a hotel balcony.

According to WJHG television in Panama City, James, 17, died almost instantly after he fell from a third-floor balcony of a Days Inn Motel at 6:25 p.m. while vacationing on spring break.

James was a 6-foot-8, 290-pound offensive tackle from St. Xavier High in Cincinnati and had signed his letter of intent to play for Notre Dame in February. Rated a four-star recruit by rivals.com and scout.com, he chose the Irish over Ohio State.

FIU player remembered

Haines City, Fla. — Mourners of a Florida International University football player slain on campus remembered a player who showed passion on and off the field. Saturday’s memorial service for 22-year-old Kendall Berry drew about 1,000 people, many wearing T-shirts and buttons with the player’s portrait.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Charles, Yori honored

San Antonio — Connecticut senior Tina Charles is the runaway choice as the Associated Press’ women’s college basketball player of the year. Nebraska’s Connie Yori is the AP women’s coach of the year.

AUTO RACING

Harvick Nationwide winner

Gladeville, Tenn. — Kevin Harvick took advantage of a late caution to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday, the Sprint Cup driver’s second victory in four series starts this season.

Harvick and crew chief Ernie Cope gambled by taking two tires under caution and seized the lead from Kyle Busch with 34 laps to go. Brian Keselowski touched off the race-changing caution by spinning at the entrance to pit road.

Harvick’s Chevrolet was strong on long runs all afternoon and was not seriously threatened as the race was contested under green the rest of the way. Harvick beat Reed Sorenson by 0.2 seconds at the finish.

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