Our Daily Dread: The ire of the Tiger

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T-minus (whatever it is until 11 a.m.) for Tiger Woods’ reentry into our golf TV box.

Can you feel it? It’s like a heavyweight bout, waiting for the champ to come out of his locker room, the lights dim, the music blares (“Eye of the Tiger” seems appropriate) and wearing a glittering robe with the hood over his head, he emerges to the roar of the crowd.

Unfortunately — or fortunately for golf — Tiger won’t have that kind of entrance today at the ritzy Ritz Carlton Golf Club just outside of Tucson for today’s Match Play Championship (official site linked here). It starts a day earlier than most PGA Tour events because this is special — the top 64 players, according to ranking, play head to head until it’s down to the final two on Sunday.

Kinda like the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

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Which puts Tiger Woods in the UConn slot — without coach Calhoun yelling at the gallery to get their facts straight — and No. 64 Brendan Jones of Australia in the role of … Slippery Rock. Maybe it’s more like Whatsa Matta U.

Their match coincides with the start of Golf Channel’s coverage today, lasting until 3 p.m. Or, if there’s more drama, staying with it until past the end, plus interviews,analysis, re-analysis, more interviews, shot charts, FloBee informercials and a cooking show with Rachel Ray.

Tiger will walk the 18 holes that he didn’t feel like walking at Riviera Country Club last week. Had he played in the PGA’s Northern Trust Open, he’d have been on the hook for four rounds (probably), two at the embarassingly least. Here, in Match Play, he can go two rounds, play reasonably well, get knocked out and still have some dignity. After two days, half of the world’s top 64 players are eliminated. There’s no real shame in that. Tiger tucks his tail between his legs and goes back to his nuclear family in Florida.

Those who’ll be most bummed are the guys at NBC. The network has the Saturday and Sunday coverage all planned around a Tiger sighting. The semifinals (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday) and the 36-hole final (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) on NBC (supplimented with Golf Channel coverage) best have someone named Sergio, Vijay or AK in the final four or else that compelling golf competition thing is as luring as Scott Hamilton’s Sequined Dudes on Ice special.

“He would not be coming back if he didn’t think he was pretty darn good right now,” said NBC analyst Johnny Miller. “He would not do it. I thought this was the perfect spot for him. He’s probably thinking, ‘Hey I can come back for the Match Play and scare these guys a little bit.’ He’s not here to test his knee, he’s here to win this thing.

“If I was Tiger and I didn’t want to tee it up to answer to a score and I was feeling pretty good, I’d try the Match Play because he can make a couple of doubles and still win your matches as long as you make a bunch birdies. This is a really good way to wet your feet if you’re Tiger Woods … you’re not playing medal play and you’re not answering to a score. Plus he has the intimidation factor going for him. It will be tough for Tiger to get to the weekend, but knowing Tiger he’s probably ready, far more than ready.”

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As the coverman of this week’s Sports Illustrated, Tiger Woods’ return means that “people (can) escape their troubles by watching sports, and this is the biggest sports story we have going right now,” said Tommy Roy, the executive producer of golf at NBC Sports, in that story. “He’s so likeable in the way that he plays, it sucks you in.”

Don’t get caught in the ire of the Tiger this weekend if your name happens to pop up next to his in the bracket. Play your game and see how that works for you. Just don’t cry like a schoolgirl when he’s walking off the course after the 13th hole with a 6 and 5 victory. Or however the score these things. Stableford, right?

Will Woods be as sharp this weekend as John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers, something of a threat like Oliver Purnell’s Clemson Tigers, or smart enough like the players on Craig Robinson’s Sydney Johnson’s Princeton Tigers to walk off the course if there’s some pain in that rebuilt knee?

Which school that uses the Tigers’ mascot to you lean to in this scenario? Comment or email at thomas.hoffarth@dailynews.com.

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