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What a difference a year makes for Tiger Woods

By James Corrigan

Although Tiger Woods may have been teeing off on a different course in Melbourne last night, he would not be human if the memories of last year's JBWere Masters did not come flooding back.

And if 12 months of torrid revelation have proven anything, it is that this once untainted icon is most definitely human.

It was during this tournament 12 months ago where the net began to close in on his private life and it was at this tournament 12 months ago where he won his last title.

Of course, the world and his mistresses now know the two events were incontrovertibly connected. That week an attractive Manhattan nightclub manager had been tracked by the National Enquirer all the way from the US to the same Australian penthouse as Woods and a fortnight later the recriminations of an impending expose led to an early-hour crash outside his Florida home.

Much will be made of the November 28 “fire hydrant” anniversary, but it is unarguable that the dominoes began to fall in the Crown Casino Hotel.

Which makes Woods reappearance Down Under that bit more fascinating to the outside audience than it was in 2009, particularly he has chosen, somewhat brazenly, to stay at the same establishment.

Things have changed for Woods — his world ranking (No 2), his marital status (single) and his yearly pay-packet (about $40m lighter). But at least two things remain the same. Woods still charges $3m to play in regular events outside his own country. And Woods is still desperate to win.

As ever with the new Tiger, the off-course requires analysis before the on-course. His return to the revered Melbourne sandbelt has been marred by controversy as opposition MPs have harangued the Victoria State Government for paying half — $1.5m — of the appearance fee.

The argument of the ruling Labour Party is simple. Last year the Woods investment reaped more than $34m as he enticed more than 100,000 through the turnstiles and many international visitors to the area.

The argument from the opposing coalition is also simple. That was last year; there is no guarantee of such interest and finance with this fallen hero.

“Victorian families are desperately short of hospital beds, police and trains,” said a spokesman for the opposition leader, Ted Baillieu, who it should be noted is preparing for an election.

“And taxpayers' money should be spent on these urgent needs rather than appearance fees for golfers.”

Except Woods is not just asked to play golf for his fee; he must also sing for his caviar summer. As part of the contractual agreements he was required to attend Tuesday's gala dinner — held at yes, the Crown Casino — and feature in a Q&A session with the Australian cricketer Shane Warne and the British television presenter Mark Nicholas.

Alas, Woods couldn't use the same excuse to leave early as he did last year. “I need a good night's sleep,” he had said. With Ms Rachel Uchitel's whereabouts that week now public knowledge, he wouldn't have dared

While any would-be hecklers at the Victoria Golf Club have been warned that it will be two wisecracks and out, those sharing the stage with Woods were under no such limitations.

At one point, Nicholas referred to Woods as “sharing the same nocturnal habits” as Warne. The latter responded this was the first time he had ever met Woods — “but I've heard a lot about him”. Added Warne: “I think we have a lot on common... we both love golf.”

For his part — if not his fee — Woods sat there and laughed. Inevitably, he was not in such a compliant mood the next day, when, during the official tournament press conference, journalists quizzed him about what it meant to be coming back to a city which now holds such resonance in his story.

“I think I'm just here to defend the title,” he replied, with a bat flat enough to thwart the ablest of spinners.

“I think I've got a pretty good chance of winning this event if I play the way I know I can play,” he said.

Yet it won't be achieved the way he played when he was last in the Garden State — it can't be, he has changed too much.

The golfing narrative of the downfall saw Woods become so distraught with his poor form that, after being dumped by long-time coach Hank Haney, he turned to a young swing guru by the name of Sean Foley.

It would not be a tweaking process as the method preached by Foley required a complete overhaul.

Woods admitted for the first time yesterday that here was one radical lifestyle alteration that he was not so adamant of making.

“I was definitely waffling,” he said. “At the [US]PGA Championship [in August], every night I was trying to figure out,

‘Should I actually do this or not?' Because I know [how big] an undertaking it is.

“I know how much effort it takes, how many swings you have to make in the mirror, how many things you have to think about, the adjustments that it takes. Do I really want to do that again?”

He did and is and a victory this week would at least go part of the way to vindicating that decision.

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