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Woods hasn't lost appeal to galleries

Sunday, April 10, 2011

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As Tiger Woods walked from the clubhouse to the first tee Saturday, it was the golfer, not the tabloid star, people noticed.

A patron gets a lift to see Tiger Woods, who still has many followers, putt on the second green during Saturday's third round of the Masters Tournament. (Corey Perrine/Staff)

"I swear he looked right at me!" Sue Roberts, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, said to her nephew, James.

Roberts has been a Woods fan his first Masters Tournament win in 1997 and stood by him when he admitted to multiple affairs.

"Totally forgiven," Roberts said. "He's such an awesome golfer, and he's done so much for the game. We all make mistakes, and he can be forgiven."

As Woods pushed for a fifth Masters victory Saturday, he had hundreds of supporters rooting for his comeback story. His affairs and his broken marriage were not foremost in their conversations as they followed him from hole to hole.

Instead, they offered cheers of "Go Tiger" and "He's back" along the way.

Woods struggled to 74 on Saturday and trails leader Rory McIlroy by seven shots.

"We're all human beings," said Hatla Ntene, of Johannesburg, South Africa. "If you don't want to make a mistake, don't get out of your house. Don't wake up in the morning."

When friends recently offered Ntene tickets to the Masters, he said he decided to make the trip only to see Woods play.

"It's the quality of golf that he plays that I want to see," Ntene said. "It's just the way he plays the game and how long he's been in the game."

Others, however, have trouble forgiving his admitted transgressions .

Madeline Jackson, of Macon, stood silent when Woods teed off at the fifth hole.

"I was like, yeah, I'm not clapping," Jackson said. "As a woman, it's easier for me to picture myself in his wife's shoes."

Jackson said it's hard to forget the disappointment she felt when Woods' private infidelities came to light.

"Especially him being such a public figure, he has a reputation to uphold. I mean, everyone has a reputation to uphold, but people looked up to him."

But many who cringed when Woods' role-model image was shattered said they are now focusing on his golf game.

He's still the athlete who made a generation think golf was worth watching, said Zondra Brandon, of Suwanee, Ga.

"I think he took responsibility for his actions and he's definitely worked hard for people to regain trust in him," Brandon said. "It's time for us to forgive and forget."

Reach Tracey McManus at (706) 823-3424 or tracey.mcmanus@augustachronicle.com.

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