PALM HARBOR – Tiger Woods' announcement that he would return to competitive golf at the Masters in three weeks came as no surprise to the pros in town to play the Transitions Championship.
"This doesn't surprise me in the least,'' 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman said. "It makes sense to come back there. They can control what they want to control there.''
Woods' decision to play in the Masters was the buzz at Innisbrook on Tuesday. He has not played in a tournament since November, when he crashed his SUV outside his Isleworth home in Orlando on Thanksgiving night. Later revelations of infidelity forced Woods into hiding. His announcement today was only the second time Woods has made a public statement.
Despite the long layoff, Tour veteran Rocco Mediate has no doubt Woods will come back as strong as ever.
"Would I be surprised if he won the Masters? Absolutely not,'' Mediate said. "I can assure you when he comes back he will be 195 percent.
"I think he'll be better. He's faced some things he's never had to face. He's faced a whole bunch of bad stuff. He's become a little more human to everybody else, which is probably good. But as a golfer he has not become a little more human. Here's one thing that's for sure, the No. 1 ranking is not up for grabs unless he quits. I'll say he wins five before the year's out.''
Woods has won the Masters four times, the last coming in 2005. He chose to bypass Bay Hill next week in Orlando and start his 2010 season at a major. It may be an unusual way to start, but it makes sense to Tour pro Jim Furyk.
"It makes a lot of sense because it is the most controlled atmosphere you could have,'' Furyk said. "Everyone is different that week. The fans are as well behaved as you can get because they're all afraid they're going to lose their ticket. Everyone is in awe of that place.''
How Woods will be treated and how he will play remains to be seen. But Mediate said he would be shocked if it wasn't the old Woods when he gets between the ropes.
"I don't think he's going to come out and hit it sideways, no matter what anybody hopes or thinks,'' Mediate said. "But he does have a tough road. He's been blisterized for this.
"I'm sure he can't wait to hit his first shot.''
Furyk added: "Never say never with that guy
Tampa's Ryuji Imada withdrew from the tournament with a rib injury. Imada has been battling the injury for most of the season. He finished tied for second in 2008 at Innisbrook. Imada was replaced by Omar Uresti.